Are We Ready for Robocars? Ford and MIT Think So

Our vision of the future often includes flying cars, which exist today but are many years away from widespread use. Another form of high-tech transportation often seen in science fiction films, however, may be a lot closer to reality -- the automated car.

Google already has a fleet of computer-controlled vehicles cruising the nation's roads that, for now, have humans along for the ride in case of malfunctions. Now, Ford Motor Co., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University are teaming up to develop vehicles that put more auto in automobile.

Addressing Challenges

Following up the recent release of an automated version of its Ford Fusion hybrid, the automotive giant on Wednesday said the university partnership will explore the long-term "societal, legislative and technological issues" posed by self-driving cars.

"Working with university partners like MIT and Stanford enables us to address some of the longer-term challenges surrounding automated driving while exploring more near-term solutions for delivering an even safer and more efficient driving experience," said Paul Mascarenas, Ford's chief technical officer and vice president of research and innovation.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, said that rather than fear robocars, we should embrace them. After all, they won't get caught texting, playing with the radio or eating breakfast during the morning commute. And they don't drink.

"In most cases the automated car will outperform people," said Enderle. "They donEUt get distracted, theyEUll be able to more accurately choose between breaking and avoidance, and they wonEUt do stupid things ... that cause accidents."

Right now, Enderle said the biggest problem with robocars is that they immediately disengage from control when they encounter a problem and hand control over to a human.

"That driver may be dosing, drunk, texting, watching a movie etc., and that likely wonEUt end well," he warned. "In addition they...

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