A car that drives itself

(CBS News) CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. - It's been a year since California passed a law letting driverless cars on the road -- and major automakers are now busier than ever building vehicles that don't need you.

It looks like an SUV driven right off the showroom floor. But this Cadillac SRX is not like anything you've seen before.

"So my feet are just sitting down here," said lead engineer Jarrod Snider, demonstrating inside the car with us, "my hands are off the wheel. And you will see that it has to operate the breaks, the throttle, the steering, thrust, turn signals."

Lead engineer Jarrod Snider for the GM Collaborative Research Lab at Carnegie Mellon University shows Terrell Brown the features of the driverless Cadillac SRX.
CBS News

The fully-autonomous vehicle was designed by engineers at the GM Collaborative Research Lab at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

As we're coming up on a red light, "and it's turning red now," said Snider. "And you can see, the car is stopping for the traffic light."

The vehicle can detect everything from stop signs to traffic lights.

"So you see it as the green arrow happens here, the car knows about that," said Snider.

The car makes all decisions involved in driving, like when to change lanes, and how to navigate busy roads.

"It's good at detecting cars," Snider said, "tracking them, knowing how fast they're going, how far away they are, and then it has some intelligence to make decisions about what to do in that case. Like, 'Can I pull out in this lane or do I need to wait for that car to go by?'"

The vehicle is equipped with a hidden system of lasers, radars, and cameras that give the car a 360-degree view of the road. All the information is fed to a computer network underneath the trunk, which makes 100 decisions per second.

"Now we're showing you what it actually looks like from a camera view," said Snider. :So not only can we detect certain things, now we're classifying objects."

Does Snider see this vehicle really being on the road in the next decade or so?

"I see it being on the road," he said. "We see it on the road today. There's cars that have adaptive cruise control, there's cars that can park themselves."

The race is already on. In August, Nissan announced they will have a fully autonomous car on the road by 2020.

A report this year found autonomous driving modes will be available in roughly 41 percent of cars worldwide by 2030, rising to 75 percent by 2035.

Four other companies say they have self-driving cars on the way.

"When you look at today," said Congressman Bill Shuster, "there are 32,000 people killed on our highways today and 6 million accidents. Ninety-three percent of those accidents are from driver error."

Congressman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania is planning hearings on how this technology can become reality.

"We believe this technology once it gets into the fleet," he said, "will reduce significantly the fatalities and accidents on our highways today."

Carnegie Mellon's researchers say these cars will likely roll out in the luxury market, but eventually could add just $5,000-$7,000 to the cost of a new car. A small price for your very own chauffeur.

  • Terrell Brown

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