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Are Smarter Cars Safer?

Bats are blind, but they can see. With the use of sound waves, these flying mammals can navigate the airways, avoid obstacles, and find food. Well, soon enough, our cars might be able to do something similar.

A research team made up of members from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University are examining how a car’s infrared sensors could see around the obstacles that challenge drivers on the road.

These sensors, known as LiDAR, bounce infrared light off of objects up to 200 feet away and are sensitive enough to determine the difference between a paper bag and a small animal.

The research being conducted using this technology, according to an article from the Los Angeles Times, could give self-driving cars the same type of intuition that humans have on the road.

The goal is to enable the sensors to determine what is ahead and make evasive maneuvers if necessary. For example, if a truck slams on its brakes on the highway, the car would know ahead of time whether other lanes are clear in order to safely switch over.

Greg Stevens, the global manager for driver assistance and active safety at Ford research and innovation told the LA Times that “drivers are good at using the cues around them to predict what will happen next, and they know that what you can’t see is often as important and what you can see.”

Stevens stated that the research is aimed at giving vehicles that same ability to use common sense, the same ability to use intuition.

The researchers will work to create a real-time 3-D map of the vehicles surroundings using data from the LiDAR sensors. This map would allow the vehicle to plan a path to avoid pedestrians, bicycles, other vehicles, and other road obstacles.

Currently, some Ford vehicles can self-park and self-drive in slow moving traffic. The next step in vehicle evolution is vehicle communication—wirelessly linking up and keeping track of each other’s travels to ease traffic congestion.

Vehicles that are able to navigate completely without human aide are the final step in the evolution process, according to Ford in the article. Self-driving technology is expected to integrate in to the public market, and be on the road, by 2020.

Legislation still has some catching up to do—only California, Michigan, Nevada, and Florida allow the testing of self-driving cars, according to the article.

How safe will these intuitive, self-driving cars be? Will you be able to drive your own car? Only time will tell.

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