Driverless cars take a step forward

* Successful demo of platooning vehicles * Tech could let you read your paper on the M25... * and cut accidents, emissions and congestion...

Driverless cars take a step forward

Motorists could put their feet up and read the newspaper on long motorway journeys within 10 years while their cars drive within an automatically controlled platoon of vehicles.

That's the promise of vehicle technology specialist Ricardo, one of the partners in the EU-financed Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) programme.

SARTRE recently carried out its first non-simulator tests at Volvo's proving ground in Sweden.

A convoy of drone cars followed a lead vehicle driven by a professional driver, and each adjusted their speed and direction to maintain a set gap from each other.

The idea is that computer-controlled platoons of cars could make more efficient and safer use of motorways by travelling close together.

The SARTRE programme estimates that accidents could be reduced by 80% and that fuel consumption and emissions would both improve by 20%.

From a technical point of view, platoon vehicles are relatively simple and have also been trialled in California and with trucks by Mercedes-Benz.

As Ricardo acknowledges, the biggest challenge could come from public acceptance of the technology and difficulties with legislators. Liability and insurance issues would also present a hurdle to technologies such as these.