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Would a Driverless Car Be Right for You?

The technology is here, and the vehicles may be soon

En español | The next wave of autonomous control, which includes vehicle-to-vehicle communication and traffic jam assist, will require the driver to trust the systems even more. With traffic jam assist, for example, if you're crawling along on your morning commute, you could hit a button and let your car take over while you sip your coffee.

Adaptive cruise control is becoming more widely available as well: Mercedes-Benz bills its upcoming 2014 S-Class as the first car to market that is capable of fully steering itself in certain highway conditions. When the steering assist is active, it doesn't require input from the driver, but in order for the system to work, the driver's hands must remain on the steering wheel. If the car senses the hands aren't on the wheel, the system returns to manual control. For turns, drivers are required to take over as well.

The driver-free future?

Some carmakers may be wary of the "driverless" concept, but Google is embracing it. The search engine giant has been at work on a self-driving car for much of the past decade. Pushed by its lobbying, three states — Nevada, Florida and California — have passed legislation approving driverless cars on roadways over the last three years.

In California, the Google car has clocked more than 300,000 accident-free test miles, and though someone sits at the wheel, the driver is hardly required. The car maneuvers its way using sensors, lasers, a 360-degree camera mounted on top and GPS integration. All the human has to do is sit there.

Google says its research focus is on improving driver safety and that it has no plans to start producing and selling cars. At the recent Detroit Auto Show, Toyota unveiled its version of the self-driving car, a modified Lexus, though the company was careful to stipulate that it is for research purposes only, and not being developed for sale.

Google reps have said they expect completely driverless technology to be available within the next decade, and though the company gets credit from the industry for pushing the innovation into the public consciousness, Reimer says that timetable isn't realistic. "We're decades off," he says, noting the numerous complex obstacles — regulatory and legislative, to say nothing of things like insurance standards, driver education and infrastructure — remain in the way.

"The driver is going to remain responsible and in control for the foreseeable future," Reimer says.

In 2012, Google produced a video of its car motoring a legally blind man around his California town, running errands and even picking up lunch at a drive-thru. (Watch the clip at the bottom of this page.) It's hard not to be excited by the possibilities the future holds.

Who's Driving That Car? Google is. The Web search-engine behemoth is sitting in the driver's seat of efforts to develop and eventually market driverless cars. In this video a legally blind man goes for a drive.

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