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Drivers With Hands Full Get a Backup: The Car

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Jesse Levinson, Stanford

Jesse Levinson of Stanford develops safety and self-driving systems like one on this Volkswagen Toureg that detects obstacles.

Credit: Annie Tritt for The New York Times

Car makers increasingly are adopting technologies for use in autonomous vehicles that take advantage of the array of optical and radar sensors being added to new cars. The sensors can offer auditory, visual, and mechanical warnings if a collision is imminent. "If the driver is not doing the right thing, the technology takes over," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Ragunathan Rajkumar.

Volvo, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes have announced that as soon as this year they will begin offering models that are equipped with sensors and software that enable the car to drive itself in heavy traffic. The systems will follow the car ahead and automatically slow down and speed up as needed, handling both braking and steering.

The automobile industry has been motivated to innovate by growing evidence that existing technologies such as anti-locking braking systems and electronic stability control have saved thousands of lives. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently recommended that all new cars be equipped with collision-avoidance technologies.

Analysts note that Google's program to design self-driving cars gave the technology a significant boost. "In time, as society becomes more comfortable and legal concerns are ironed out, full autonomy will become practical, inevitable, and necessary," Rajkumar says.

From The New York Times
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