Saturday, April 2, 2016

Family Tech: Self-driving cars sound scary but could actually be safer - April 1, 2016

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It has been five years since Google stunned the world by showing how far along it was with its self-driving cars. Suddenly another invention, first seen in science fiction, seemed poised to become real.

During the intervening years we may have settled into the idea that true self-driving cars were still a someday thing.

Fully self-driving cars are not so much going to appear suddenly in dealerships, as gradually enter our lives. In reality, there are cars on the road now with self-driving capabilities.

Readers with some newer, high-priced vehicles already have some self-driving features.

Some cars have auto parallel parking, often called park assist. Ford, Lincoln, BMW, Range Rover, Nissan and Mercedes Benz have this feature. I’d have killed for this when I lived in San Francisco. I wonder if they can parallel park on the other side of the street on a 24-degree downhill. I can.

Autonomous self-driving cars have an extensive sensor array in the cars. These sensor systems are appearing now and are used in some cars not to control the car but warn the driver of conditions. Lane assist warns the driver if they are drifting out of their lane.

The sensors can also warn you if there is something in your blind spot as you are about to move over. Others will slow or stop the car if you approach too closely to the vehicle in front of you.

Active cruise control can slow your vehicle as it approaches cars in front and speed back up as traffic begins moving faster. Think how nice that would be on Interstate 95 creeping north in the morning. You still have to keep your hands on the wheel and actively drive, but it delegates one irritating portion of the effort of the commute to technology.

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