Self-driving cars have become a hot topic, but it will be a long time before drivers can sit back and let the car do all the work.
Even so, while few drivers may realize it, the technology that ultimately will permit an autonomous revolution has been creeping into cars for decades. Some cars already can park themselves and automatically adjust their speed to keep pace with the traffic ahead.
"The technology is so close and is making such great strides that I think it's going to come a lot faster than people realize," says Lindsay Voss, senior program development manager of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Indeed, no-hands, no-feet driving is already on the horizon. And a handful of automakers are working to combine adaptive cruise with automatic steering so a vehicle eventually can battle traffic on its own.
Before that happens, though, the industry must hash out numerous issues that self-driving cars raise, including legal and regulatory ramifications, insurance issues and public skepticism. Among the biggest hurdles is automakers' fear of being held responsible -- either in court or just in the public's eye -- when an autonomous vehicle they build crashes.
Few in the industry can even agree on what to call such vehicles. Many who attended the inaugural Driverless Car Summit in Detroit last month objected to the term "driverless." But they say progress is steady, in spite of the obstacles.
"The legal issues, insurance -- these things will work themselves out," says Voss, whose group organized the conference.