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Self-driving cars ready for public road tests

May 11, 2012
Nevada drivers soon will be sharing the road with vehicles that don’t need them. State officials this month issued the nation’s first license to test self-driving cars on public streets, after conducting demonstrations on the Las Vegas Strip and in Carson City that show the car is as safe — or perhaps safer — than a human.
“It gets honked at more often because it’s being safe,” said Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow.
Self-driving vehicle technology works like auto-pilot to guide a car with little or no intervention from a human operator. Laser radar mounted on the roof and in the grill detects pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles, creating a virtual buffer zone around the obstacles that the car then avoids.
While some envision the robotic car dropping off its operator at the front of the mall and hunting for a parking spot on its own, Breslow said not so fast.
Nevada’s regulations require two people in the test cars at all times. One person is behind the wheel, while the other person monitors a computer screen that shows the car’s planned route and keeps tabs on roadway hazards and traffic lights.
If there’s a glitch, the human driver can override the autonomous auto with a tap on the brake or a hand on the steering wheel.
The cars, designed to avoid distracted driving, scored well on Las Vegas Boulevard, where massive billboards angle for the attention of starry-eyed tourists.