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Some day, you may leave the driving to ... your car

no hands June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:40 p.m. EDT (2340 GMT)

From Correspondent Greg LaMotte

SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- There's hot new talk about driverless cars that would let all its occupants sit back and relax while cruising along a magnetized highway.

The federal government is funding a consortium of universities, government agencies and private companies to develop an automated roadway system.

"I believe it will develop ultimately into highways very much like today's highways, that have lanes on them in which vehicles operate fully automatically," said Jim Rillings of the National Automated Highway System Consortium.

VXtreme streaming video: CNN's Greg Lamotte reports from San Diego

"These lanes carry greatly increased numbers of cars, two to three times the capacity of today's lanes, and people are free to use their time to do other things instead of driving."

Here's how it works:


A car is loaded with radar sensing and steering devices that interact with simple, everyday magnets that have been planted along a 7 1/2-mile stretch of freeway in San Diego.

A sensing device underneath the front of the car communicates with the magnets to keep the car safely on the road. A radar system senses distances between cars, and adjusts the speed and operates the brakes to maintain a safe distance.

"We can improve safety. Ninety percent or so of the crashes that occur each day occur because drivers did something wrong," said Steven Shladover of the Institute of Transportation Studies.

"If we have the computers and sensors on board the vehicles, they don't get sleepy, they don't get distracted, they don't lose attention. They're operating all the time."


With computers doing the driving, it's estimated that two to three times as many cars could use a freeway without the aggravation of gridlock.

"The vehicles can operate more safely, they can maneuver more safely amongst each other, and the traffic can flow more smoothly," said Dick Bishop of the Federal Highway Administration.

But with $200,000 worth of computer equipment stashed in the trunk of each car, such high-tech vehicles probably won't be seen in the showroom for another 15 to 20 years. It may take that long to figure out how to make all the cool technology affordable. In the meantime, keep your hands on the wheel.


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