Car of the Future May Drive You

ByABC News via logo

March 25, 2006 — -- The future of cars may not be a super-souped up vehicle that you'll drive. The car may drive around on its own with you as the passenger.

Last fall, the Pentagon sponsored a race across the Nevada desert of vehicles that could through the 132-mile course all by themselves. The prize was $2 million and a possible defense contract.

Twenty-three vehicles started the race, but only five finished. The robot cars maneuvered their way through the treacherous terrain by using a combination of GPS, laser sensors, and video imaging.

"What's amazing is this isn't just a remote-controlled car," said Ben Chertoff, research editor for Popular Mechanics. "It's a car that actually thinks about where it is, figures out if there's an obstacle in front, and makes its own decision to drive."

The military hopes driverless cars might one day lead to supply convoys that don't need soldiers at the wheel -- keeping them out of harm's way.

Such technology eventually could find its way to all of us.

"In the future, this will lead to smarter and safer cars," Chertoff said. "Eventually, we'll have cars that can prevent a crash from happening, that can wake you up if you fall asleep or drive a car back onto the road."

Sebastian Thrun, whose Stanford University team built the winning car, says it more simply.

"I predict during my lifetime, I'll be driven around by a car," he said, "and I'll trust the car more than I trust myself."

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