On the Road with a Driverless Car

As the auto industry struggles to find drivers for its cars, engineers at Stanford University may have come up with a solution: a car that doesn't need a driver.

"It's not a remote control car," explained Chris Gerdes, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. "All of the intelligence it does is on board - it resides in a computer there."

When the Stanford University researchers offered a bumpy spin in the driverless car, named Shelly, they didn't let CBS News correspondent John Blackstone go alone.

Shelley's computers are still learning to drive. By this fall they want Shelley to race to the top of Colorado's Pikes Peak with nobody at the wheel.

The Audi TTS has been given a global positioning system accurate within an inch, and "brains" designed to take a beating.

"It's just a rugged computer," Gerdes said. "So it can handle all the bumps and bounces."

The researchers at Stanford have been working on driverless cars for years now.

In 2005, they talked Blackstone into going for a ride in a car they called Stanley.

Stanley's driving style was cautious. But Shelley is all about speed. In a test at the Bonneville Salt Flats it clocked 130 mph.

While it may seem risky to hand the control of a speeding car to a computer, much of what this is about is removing risk for drivers.

"The very same algorithms that we're running on the vehicle, we could actually put on a car and have it assist you," Gerdes said.

The technology that's meant to help this car race up Pikes Peak without going off a cliff may one day keep regular drivers from going off the road. But there's another motivation as well.

"It's cool," Gerdes said.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.

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