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Cars will drive themselves in ten years

  • Travel in convoy on motorway
  • No driver input required
  • Safer and greener
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Stressful commuting could soon be a thing of the past, thanks to technology that will allow vehicles to 'drive themselves'.

A European Union project called SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) is to be launched to develop and test technology for vehicles that can travel in 'road trains' on motorways.

These 'trains' could cut journey times, reduce the number of road accidents and improve fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Cars joining the motorway would slot into a convoy of six to eight vehicles, then travel automatically, with no driver input, until the time came to leave the motorway.

How will the technology work?
Automatic cruise control already helps cars to anticipate traffic ahead and slow down accordingly. Developing this idea further, 'autonomous driving' technology would control acceleration, braking and steering, so that cars could travel together in convoy.

The first test cars will be launched in 2011, equipped with a navigation system and transceiver that communicates with a lead vehicle.

The lead vehicle will be driven as normal, controlled by an experienced driver who's familiar with the route. Cars joining the motorway will enter the road train using their navigation system, before allowing the autonomous driving programme to take control.

As drivers approach their exit point they will leave the convoy and continue driving as normal, while the remaining vehicles will automatically close the gap and carry on.

Potential benefits of autonomous driving
By travelling closer together, cars will experience less drag, which could reduce energy use by 20%. Road capacity will also be used more efficiently, with a subsequent reduction in journey times.

Safety could also be improved by the system, because it will reduce the risk of driver error or tiredness.