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Self-driving cars of tomorrow developing today

September 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Automakers are always working toward making cars safer, more fuel-efficient and fun to drive. But making them able to drive themselves? That's the road we're headed down, though all experts say that's still years away for the average consumer.

It sounds like something out of science fiction, and resembles it a bit, too. But self-driving cars, or autonomous vehicles, are already on the road. Google has about a dozen. How do they work?

"A Google car can literally sense what's around the car and what kind of obstacles are coming up," said Edmunds.com editor Ed Hellwig.

The average person won't be able to buy a self-driving model anytime soon. It would be too expensive at this point. But that doesn't mean you can't try out some of the technology today.

Take adaptive cruise control, for example.

"Adaptive cruise control can bring the car to a complete stop as well as start the car once traffic gets moving again, so you could literally be in stop-and-go traffic and not put your feet on the pedals at all," said Hellwig.

Or there are lane-departure warnings that auto-correct when you veer outside the lines; headlights that adapt to changing weather conditions; and new blind-spot technology.

"It'll give you either an audible or a visual warning in your mirrors letting you know that a car is there," said Hellwig.

And guess what? These options aren't just popping up in the luxury market anymore. When Aimee Goodman went shopping recently for a new car, she was sold when she realized she could get high-tech for a low price.

"It became a significant factor in choosing a car," said Goodman.

The car she picked is priced in the mid-$20,000s, but offers blind-spot assistance and the windshield wipers will turn on as soon as the car senses moisture on the windshield.

What could be wrong with all that? Well, some complain that all this high-tech help will put drivers at a disadvantage.

"It might make some drivers a little too relaxed in terms of being vigilant about what's around them," said Hellwig.

Goodman disagrees, saying she feels more confident.

"It doesn't replace a driver's attention to detail but it gives you an added level of security," said Goodman.

There are still many obstacles on the road to self-driving cars and autonomous features, many of which would require laws to be drawn up to deal with things like who might be at fault if an accident did happen in a self-driving car.


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