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Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Driving into the future -- Part II
In addition to warning of cars running red lights or stop signs, "connected cars" can also let drivers know if they don't have time to make a left turn because of oncoming traffic. In a line of heavy traffic, the systems issue an alert if a car several vehicles ahead brakes hard even before the vehicle directly in front brakes. And the systems alert drivers when they're at risk of rear-ending a slower-moving car.

NHTSA has been working on the technology for the past decade along with eight automakers: Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen. "We think this is really the future of transportation safety, and it's going to make a huge difference to the way we live our lives," said Scott Belcher, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

The technology is already available, said Rob Strassburger, vice president for safety of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He said what's needed is for the government to set standards so that all automakers use compatible technology. Some of the safety technologies for V2V are already available in cars, although they tend to be offered primarily on higher-end models.

Together, the currently available technologies and the future V2V systems may effectively form a kind of autopilot for the road. Said Strassburger: "The long-term trajectory for these technologies is a vehicle that drives itself — a driverless car."

Drive me home

Google begins road testing its self-driving car of tomorrow

Google's self-driving cars will soon be appearing on Nevada roads after the U.S. state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approved the nation's first autonomous vehicle license. The move came after officials rode along on drives on highways, in Carson City neighborhoods and along the famous Las Vegas Strip.

The Nevada state legislature last year approved self-driven cars for the state's roads, the first such law in the U.S. That law went into effect on March 1, 2012. Google's self-driven cars rely on video cameras, radar sensors, lasers, and a database of information collected from manually driven cars to help them navigate, according to the company. The DMV licensed a Toyota Prius that Google modified with its experimental driver-less technology, which was developed by Stanford professor and Google Vice President Sebastian Thrun.

Google's self-driving cars have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and driven along the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, according to the company. Autonomous vehicles are the "car of the future," Nevada DMV director Bruce Breslow said. The state also has plans to eventually license autonomous vehicles owned by members of the public, the DMV said. Laws to regulate autonomous cars are being considered in other states, including Google's home state of California.

It may be many years, however, before self-driving cars are the norm. Still, the potential of the technology is staggering and could fundamentally change societies across the globe. It would likely mean an end to the vast majority of car accidents.

"The vast majority of vehicle accidents are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle is capable of analyzing the driving environment more quickly and operating the vehicle more safely," California state Senator Alex Padilla said.

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