Driverless cars could hit local roads by 2020 - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Driverless cars could hit local roads by 2020

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Imagine being able to work on your laptop, or video conference while driving to work. It may become a reality one day with the development of vehicles that drive themselves.

Turns out, San Diego was one of the first test locations for robot cars.

They are called autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars that allow the driver to let go of the steering wheel. They can change lanes, slow down in traffic jams, even park all by themselves.

In one demonstration, the driver actually gets out of the vehicle while the robot car pulls into an empty parking spot and turns off its engine. Later, the vehicle remembers the drop off spot and returns to pick up the driver.

Nissan did a test run of its driverless vehicle in Irvine earlier this year.

"I don't think technology is really the issue here, what we need to do is really understand what autonomous vehicles are all about and what people want from autonomous vehicles," Nissan researcher Maarten Sierhuis said.

Some of the first driverless cars were tested in 1997 on Interstate 15 in San Diego in a demo set up by the San Diego Association of Governments.

The test involved placing magnets on the freeway so the vehicles could stay inside the lanes.

"What we were thinking back in those days was that the roadway had to be a smart roadway. Now we're investing technology in the cars and enabling them with communication," SANDAG technology manager James Dreisbach-Towle said.

The cars of the future won't use magnets. Instead, they will be equipped with black boxes that allow vehicles to communicate with each other.

They will have onboard cameras, radar and lasers to constantly scan for obstacles around the vehicle.

Some of that technology is already here.

"It's got sensors right in front and what the sensors basically do, they pick up the car in front of you," Hoehn Audi specialist Gabby Engel said.

At Hoehn Audi in Carlsbad, managers let CBS News 8 get behind the wheel of the new A8 with a feature called "assisted cruise control."

"Let's say someone gets in front of you at 45 miles per hour, the car will slow down to 45 miles per hour on it's own, and keep the distance between the car," Engel said.

Other car makers are working on their own autonomous vehicles, including Google with technology that could be on the road by 2017.

Experts predict that driverless cars will initially use existing carpool lanes and over the years take over more and more roadways.

"Between now and 2035 you're going to see a gradual evolution of this," Dreisbach-Towle said. "In the future when your car is completely driving itself, you can be doing work, having a conference call, having a video call, and you can be very productive that way."

California is one of three states with driverless car laws on the books -- Governor Brown has called for more specific regulations to be in place by 2015.

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