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Driverless Cars: Promising, But Bumps In The Road

(CBS) -- Sometime in the future, the cars we buy could be self-driving.

I just returned from a unique research site where test vehicles are on the road. I found out what it's like to ride around in a car with no human in control.

It looks familiar, with the bones of a traditional car.

But extra technology makes this Lincoln MKZ stand apart and boosts the price to around $300,000.

On the University of Michigan campus, the firm Mcity tests driverless cars on mock city and suburban streets -- with virtual traffic, a railroad crossing and stoplights to navigate.

The vehicle is communicating with the red light to know how many seconds remain.

Vehicles have enhanced GPS, cameras, radar, LIDAR and ultrasonic sensors.

"You don't need line of sight. You can 'hear' other cars or pedestrians, even when they are blocked by a building," says Mcity Director Huei Peng.

As for the safety of automated vehicles, he adds: "I think they are not yet necessarily safer than the best human driver yet. When there is flooding on the street, heavy snow, sensors and computers may not be totally ready."

But in some cases, he says, driverless options are ready now at slow speeds with good weather. An example of this is a test of Waymo's ride-sharing service on suburban Phoenix streets.

I rode in Arma, Mcity's driverless shuttle, and it was definitely unique.

"Steering wheels, we don't need those anymore. We don't need a brake pedal or gas pedal," says Carrie Morton, Mcity's deputy director.

Students and staff will ride in it on campus soon.

"The safety record of the shuttles here is perfect," Morton says.

But it's not without challenges. At first it wouldn't run, although a hard reboot fixed that.

Then, Arma sensed our mini-camera fall in front of it, and within one second stopped to avoid it. That's good.

But the computer hit the brakes harder than a human driver might, sending equipment and the standing photographer flying.

"The shuttle stops very quickly which can be uncomfortable for the occupants," says Morton.

Roman Kuropas runs his own ride service company in Burr Ridge.

"Taking people from home to the train station or the train station to work in that one- or two-mile distance -- automated vehicles are perfect," Kuropas says.

His two-seater Dash already operates in Itasca.

The car can be driverless, like this one he's testing in Ohio, but in Illinois the car must still have a human driving.

"We're going to need to see how the policy makers are going to accept this," says Kuropas.

Dash user Joe Moore would use a driverless car.

"As long as it had been thoroughly tested, I would be okay with that," Moore says.

There have been at least 60 accidents nationwide in test vehicles. In nearly every case, the human drivers in the other vehicles were found to be at fault.

Driverless cars, for ride-sharing and shuttles, could be on the road in major cities within a year or two. It could be 10 years or more before we'll own one of our own.

Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a bill stopping local efforts to ban self-driving cars in Illinois.

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