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The Auto Industry is Closing in on a Future Without Drivers

New innovations continue to bring driverless car technology closer to a reality.

The latest is from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. They’re currently putting the finishing touches on their version of a driverless car.

The prototype is equipped with a host of sensory technologies, including lasers, cameras and radar – all of which feed their data into four onboard computers. This provides the vehicle with a picture of its surroundings and possible dangers in real-time. It also uses GPS and wireless technology to give its autonomous navigation controls a sense of direction.

Now, what separates this from other driverless cars is its thermal imaging camera.

You see, one of the worst dangers we’re confronted with on the road is impaired vision. Yet this car “is outfitted with a thermal imaging camera – a heat-sensing device [that] can actually see if there is a human or an animal in front of the car. The computer can actually detect that and stop the car,” says Professor Raj Rajkumar of Carnegie Mellon.

And while he’s confident that his autonomous car will be ready for primetime by 2020, he’s aware that getting people comfortable with letting a machine take over will be the real challenge.

Indeed. One thing that will surely keep people on their guard is the fact that not all drivers will have the technology at one time. And it’s tough to trust a computer to account for all scenarios of human error at one time.

As Executive Editor Justin Fritz wrote last year, “I agree that an automated car is always on its game, and there are several people who’d make the world a safer place by handing over the reins… The problem is that the transition to driverless cars isn’t happening overnight. And as long as terrible drivers are still tormenting the roadways in their manually operated jalopies, I’m not convinced that we should feel safe letting these cars take over exclusively while we take a nap or play Scrabble with our passengers.”