The EU has launched a new project to develop technology that can make vehicles run by themselves on long motorways.

The project, Safe Road Trains for Environment (SARTRE), envisages a ‘road train’ of six to eight vehicles travelling in a convoy following a lead vehicle autonomously.

Once a driver nears their destination they can then exit off the convoy from the side, leaving the convoy to fill the gap and continue moving until it splits up.

The system will require cars to be equipped with a navigation system and a transmitter/receiver unit to allow for communications with the lead vehicle.

The first cars equipped with the system are expected to roll on test tracks in 2011.

The project is aimed at improving traffic flow and travel times, preventing collisions as well as cutting on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The technology is also expected to save 20% of the energy use.

The project is being assisted by Volvo Cars, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Ricardo UK, the Robotiker-Tecnalia Technology Centre, the Institut für Kraftfahrzeuge of the RWTH Aachen University and IDIAD of Barcelona, Spain.