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Nobody at the Wheel: New Driverless Cars

By Evelyn Kanter, June 8th, 2013

It's just a matter of time before we are cruising down the road with nobody at the wheel. Whether you call it the driverless car, the self-driving car, or autonomous driving, it will be here sooner than most of us expect.

A recent Cisco Systems survey of 1,500 people in 10 countries indicates most of us would be likely to ride in a car controlled entirely by technology that does not require a human driver. Sixty percent of Americans surveyed said they would trust a driverless car, compared to 70 percent of respondents in China, 86 percent in India and 96 percent in Brazil.

Google has been making headlines for its driverless car, which already has logged more than 300,000 miles in California with just one accident. Google's self-driving car, a Prius hybrid, can merge onto highways, pass slower vehicles, and pass safely through intersections with no stoplights. Google is far from alone in developing the technology that will allow us to drive without driving, and it's not the first, either.

The Volkswagen/Audi Electronics Research Lab (ERL), also in Silicon Valley, produced an autonomous Audi TTS that climbed Pikes Peak in 2010. On a recent visit to the lab, I watched a driverless VW Jetta wagon park itself. Instead of cameras or lasers, both vehicles mate high-resolution GPS with sophisticated software and on-board computers that are too expensive, large, and heavy for commercial use.

That's a step ahead of the Ford and Lexus systems already available as options in some models. The systems do most of the work of parallel parking, but still require the driver to assist the computers and cameras with braking or steering, or both. I've tried them both, and they are jaw-dropping.

We already have vehicles which brake for us when the on-board computers, cameras and radar sense a collision, and warn us when we are drifting out of our lane or changing lanes without noticing there is a vehicle in our blind spot. So it

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