Associated Press — Route 19 north in Cranberry is crowded with three lanes of cars zooming during Tuesday's lunch hour. A metallic gold 2011 Cadillac SRX with four passengers is on the clogged highway, smoothly traveling at the 45 mph speed limit. Suddenly, danger looms -- a black Jeep slowly enters the roadway right in front of the Cadillac. The Cadillac quickly brakes without losing control, slows down and continues moving, avoiding crashing into the rear of the erratically driven Jeep.
Now that was a pretty nifty piece of driving -- especially by a computer.
Yes, that's right, the Cadillac was totally, completely driving itself (with onboard human monitoring, to be sure). It stopped at stop signs and red lights, safely entered traffic on cross streets, made turns (using turn signals, natch), changed lanes to pass cars, and slowed down and accelerated at appropriate times, all the while choosing the most efficient route to a pre-programmed destination.
Looking like any other Cadillac SRX, the crossover is actually a high-tech experimental self-driving vehicle under development at the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab at CMU in Oakland. The goal of the project's 15-member team -- CMU faculty, full-time research staff, post-doctoral researchers, doctoral students and master's students -- is to develop an autonomous driving vehicle that can more safely navigate highways than humans can.
Each year, more than 30,000 people die in vehicular crashes in the United States. Another 2.3 million hurt in crashes require emergency room treatment. Since 90 percent of all accidents are caused by driver error, improving vehicular safety is the main reason GM/CMU, Google and other scientific entities are in the process of developing cars that some day will drive us. All we'll have to do is tell it where to go.
"Humans are extremely smart but can be rather stupid as well," said CMU professor Raj Rajkumar, co-director of the autonomous driving research lab. "We can be distracted, angry, mad, sleepy, drunk, driving while eating, shaving, applying makeup and even changing clothes. If we can take the basic human emotional and physical problems out of the equation, we expect injuries and fatalities will go down."