The European SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) project, which is developing technology to automate slipstreaming of multiple vehicles on highways, is now a year into its three-year program.
The first year has been spent ironing out the concept and investigating the requirements of a prototype system, as well as how people will react to using it. Now the program is set to enter the implementation phase, starting with the testing of a single lead and following vehicle.
The benefits of slipstreaming or drafting in reducing fuel consumption (and therefore CO2 emissions) are well known and the technique is already widely used in bike and car racing. The team says exploiting the resultant lower air drag would allow vehicles to achieve energy savings in the region of 20 percent. But that’s only one of the benefits that the project hopes to bring to drivers.
The SARTRE team says a system that enables vehicles to automatically follow a lead vehicle driven by a trained driver would also reduce accidents, improve traffic flow and free drivers from the monotonous task of highway driving, thereby allowing them to catch up on some reading, watch a movie or get some work done on a laptop. When they are approaching their destination, the driver takes control of their vehicle and leaves the convoy, with the remaining vehicles closing the gap as the road-train continues on its way.
The technology could also be used in that most frustrating of low speed situations – the traffic jam – to allow vehicles to follow the vehicle in front until the congestion clears.