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What lies ahead for 'driverless' cars?

Driving Saves Gas.

Yes, you read it here first, driving can save fuel. Well, not just any sort of driving- Road trains, autonomous vehicles, and all manner of  driver assist options will soon make commutes somewhat more efficient,  and certainly less exhausting.

It wasn't too long ago that the idea of a self driving car would a have seemed like science fiction. Then some 8 years ago, DARPA (the Defense Department's research arm) made public an initiative to move autonomous vehicles into the realm of possibility- from fiction to fact- by way of a competion, a "Grand Challenge".

GM's Grand Challenge entrant

The unique R&D effort meant that cars under their own control would compete for the first time in history.  The first two competions were in the desert where no cars (or people!) could be seriously harmed. After the technology quickly matured, by 2007 self-driving cars from universies and Defense contractors were competing in an Urban challenge

In the desert the cars had only been required to navigate a prescribed course with no human guidance. The Urban challenge, however, presented a larger set of problems for these robot vehicles: self navigate and drive in an urban setting, while obeying all traffic laws.

Six teams finished, and to many, it seemed it was time to learn how to best take the technologies to the marketplace:

Following from the notion that a car can safely drive itself- Volvo, through a European effort called SARTRE (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) are working on a system where a set of autonomous cars trails a lead control vehicle (in this case a truck) and each car's speed is controlled and metered.  Cars can then travel closer together, thereby creating more highway room- and they can also stay at a somewhat constant pace, with no weaving in and out and fewer moments of sudden acceleration. one can listen to music, catch up on work, browse the headlines, or complete phone calls, without risk to driver, passengers or vehicle

Volvo's Road train concept

Perhaps in our more immediate future are "semi autonomous vehicles", such as the new Cadillac suite of technologies now known as "Super Cruse" :

According to Cadillac, this system, not total  self-driving, but more of a situational self-driving car. It uses features that are already included in the some Cadillacs and engineered them to perform together, which should, just about drive the vehicle without any driver intervention on the interstate.

It uses features like rear automated braking, adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot alert, and automatic collision preparation in combination with the vehicle's GPS system and electric power steering to actually keep the car driving at safe speeds and in its lane. It is set by simply picking the lane and speed you want to drive in, then clicking the "Cruise" button.

"In the coming years, autonomous driving systems paired with advanced safety systems could help eliminate the crash altogether by interceding on behalf of drivers before they're even aware of a hazardous situation.