It may not be long before you can buy a car that can drive itself, but there's still work to be done. A lot of that research is happening at Texas A&M University.
"This is the future. In fact, this is the present and the future," said Professor Reza Langari, the J.R. Thompson Department Head Chair at Texas A&M's Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution.
Langari and his team of engineering students are using a 2005 Ford F-150 to build an autonomous vehicle, fully capable of driving itself.
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"One good thing about a vehicle like this is that it is pretty intimidating the way it looks," Langari said. "So if you had autonomous vehicles that had that kind of aura to them, people would sort of be a little more mindful of them, but that's not always going to be the case."
Brimming with electronics to operate the accelerator, brake and steering wheel, the truck currently uses the Global Positioning System to navigate.
"We can actually control the vehicle using the on-board computer effectively by communicating with it a given path from a ground station," Langari said. "Basically, you sketch out where the vehicle needs to go, those coordinates are recorded, matched by the GPS coordinates, and then the vehicle navigates itself."
The self-driving truck has already logged several miles in highly controlled environments, but someone is always behind the wheel of the autonomous vehicle, just in case.
"That's the model that in fact many manufacturers are now proposing for autonomous driving, where you would actually have a driver in the loop at all times – aware and ready to take action as needed," Langari said.
With more than $100,000 invested in the vehicle, engineers will soon equip it with cameras and other devices which will allow the truck to drive even more fully on its own.
"It will be able to see around and be able to negotiate relative to what is around and to avoid issues that may not be purely evident from a GPS signal," Langari said.
"I think over time, perhaps in the next decade, we will see vehicles which will have the capability to drive themselves for the most part in a very broad range of situations," he said.