Could Driverless Cars be Closer Than You Think?

Lexus LS Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle (AASRV)

Talk of driverless cars took center stage at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and it’s enough to thrill my inner geek. Two major companies Audi and Toyota are making strides with their autonomous car technology, with Audi becoming the first automaker to obtain a license from Nevada to test its self-piloted cars on the state’s roads.

But how close are we really to the car of the future, and what does it mean for car design, driving and even laws down the road?

Toyota, who unveiled their high-tech Lexus LS research vehicle, insists that completely driverless cars are not the focus of their technology. Instead, they hope to make improvements that make driving easier.

“While key components of these research efforts could lead to a fully autonomous car in the future, the vision is not necessarily a car that drives itself,” a Toyota statement read. “Instead, Toyota and Lexus envision technologies that enhance the skills of the driver, believing a more skillful driver is a safer driver.”

Thanks to a 360-degree roof mounted laser, radar, GPS and stereo cameras, the Lexus LS AARV can detect objects from up to 490 feet away. It can also tell the difference between a red or green light, measure the location and speed of objects at intersections and estimate travel distance, angle, orientation and speed.

Audi TTS Pikes Peak Research Car

Audi is thinking along the same lines. They see their technology being used, not to take drivers out of the equation, but to ease everyday driving situations like monotonous stop-and-go traffic or trying to fit into tight parking spaces.

This video showing their driverless research car, the TTS, climbing the Pike Peaks mountain road in Colorado gives my inner geek some hope though. They can say what they want; there’s definitely nothing everyday about this.

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