Study: What controls for a no-driver car?
DETROIT -- Federal regulators are taking driverless cars seriously, although such vehicles probably won't be commercially viable for another decade or so.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a research project to figure out what sort of cockpit controls would be appropriate for a human motorist in a computer-driven vehicle.
Tim Johnson, NHTSA's director of crash avoidance and electronic controls research, said the agency would conduct the $1.75 million research project with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
The researchers want to design controls that would enable a motorist to let the computer do the driving, then allow the motorist to take over safely if the computer is flummoxed by an unexpected event.
"That is the work we are starting up right now," Johnson said here last week during the SAE Convergence 2012 conference sponsored by SAE International. "We are putting a high priority on this. We are trying to figure this out."
A number of automakers have tinkered with driverless cars, but the pace of research picked up after Google Inc. rolled out a radar-guided Toyota Prius and lobbied state legislatures to allow driverless vehicles on public roads.
Google founder Sergey Brin subsequently boasted that his company would have driverless cars available for the public within a decade. But panelists at the SAE conference suggested that it likely would take longer than that to develop a production-ready driverless vehicle.
"We don't anticipate an autonomous car in the foreseeable future," said Christian Schumacher, North American director of engineering systems for supplier Continental AG.
Driverless systems require the motorist to remain vigilant in case driving conditions suddenly change. Automakers have not yet figured out how to design a driverless car reliable enough to allow the driver to take a nap.
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