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Technology could soon drive cars

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Technology is changing the face of the motor industry, with advances now available that will allow cars to drive themselves. 

At the Consumer Electronics Show taking place in Las Vegas this week, General Motors demonstrated an unmanned Chevrolet Tahoe that uses electronics to drive itself. Although we're not likely to see unmanned cars on the road any time soon, the electronics technology in use could lead to production vehicles that eliminate the most common cause of crashes – driver error.
GM's new Tahoe – named “Boss” after the nickname of GM research and development founder Charles Kettering – was developed by Carnegie Mellon University, General Motors and other partner companies. It uses a combination of LIDAR, radar, vision and mapping/GPS systems to see the world around it.
It recognises road geometry and perceives other traffic and obstacles on the road, and – using intelligent algorithms and computer software – figures out where it’s safe to drive in order to avoid obstacles while completing the driving mission.
Boss recently navigated 60 miles of urban traffic, busy intersections and stop signs in less than six hours to win the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) 2007 Urban Challenge competition.
“Not only can we use electricity in place of gasoline to propel the next generation of vehicles, the electronic technology in vehicles such as Boss can provide society with a world in which there are no car crashes, more productive commutes and very little traffic congestion,” says Larry Burns, GM vice-president: R&D & strategic planning, adding that the technology in Boss is a stepping stone toward a day when commuters can do their E-mail, eat breakfast and even watch the news while being "chauffeured" to work.
Today’s vehicles already feature an emerging family of electronic driver-assist technologies – known as autonomous driving – aimed at reducing driver errors that can result in crashes. Electronics-enabled autonomous driving is a significant technology advancement that will impact future transportation.
Technologies already on today’s vehicles include adaptive cruise control; stability control systems such as GM’s StabiliTtrak; GM’s GPS-enabled OnStar safety and security system; pre-crash sensors; side blind zone assist; and lane departure warning systems. While these technologies are not a substitute for driver responsibility and attention, they can help reduce errors that can lead to crashes, enhance occupant safety and address traffic congestion.