Roadway testing to soon begin for nearly driverless cars - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Roadway testing to soon begin for nearly driverless cars

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

A common rule of any driver's education class is to keep hands at the ten-and-two position -- but new cars are taking drivers hands off of the wheel almost completely.

The University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator is testing how drivers use autonomous cars while driving on parts of Interstate 380. Iowa City was chosen as one of the ten cities in the country to be the proving grounds for self-driving cars by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The NADS beat out over 60 applicants for the honor based on their automotive safety research that has spanned over 25 years.

In it's position is a brand-new Tesla Model S 75D, which is one of the vehicles NADS is focusing it's study on. Soon, each week a test driver will use the car to commute to work from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City using I-380.

On Wednesday, NADS research assistant John Gaspar demonstrated how the Tesla's adaptive cruise control worked.

"It's using those lane lines to try and keep us in the middle of the lane but you can see I've got my hands pulled back from the wheel. My feet pulled back from the pedals," Gaspar said.

Throughout the drive, Gaspar only had to have his hands on the steering wheel for a short time and could take his foot off the gas completely as the car sped up and slowed down.

"Adaptive cruise control is working like standard cruise control except that when there's a vehicle in front of me it's going to modify my speed to keep a reliable gap from that car," he said.

Autonomous cars shouldn't get confused for driverless cars. Drivers are still behind the wheel and the car sends routine reminders for drivers to put their hands on the wheel.

"Driver is very much in charge, very much monitoring the system. It doesn't really let you drive that long without giving some reassurance that you're still there," NADS Director, Daniel McGehee, said.

While Tesla's cameras maintain the car's adaptive cruise control, UI researchers have invested quite a few cameras of their own. Their cameras capture every aspect of a person behind the wheel for their research, which essentially is to monitor how drivers handle the advanced technology.

"We're really studying how today's production technologies, production vehicles, are working as we inch up towards higher levels of automation. It will really be a long time before there will be no drivers on complete open roads," McGehee said.

The Tesla Model S 75D is not unique to only the research programming. McGehee and Gaspar said the cars are fairly common in California and can be purchased by anyone. Although, they expect to see that type of technology more commonly on the road in the next five to ten years.

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