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UW-Madison tests driverless car tech

Driverless cars are the future of transportation but first, the industry has to prove that they work.

UW-Madison and their Wisconsin partners are one of ten 'proving grounds' around the country putting them at the forefront of this life-changing technology.

Forty thousand americans die each year in traffic incidents and, according to researchers at Wisconsin's autonomous vehicle proving grounds, 90% of those crashes are caused by human error.

UW-Madison researcher Peter Rafferty says the goal of self-driving car technology is not about giving us more time to work or read or relax but eliminating the biggest problem on the road, us.

"The more we're able to take the human out of that loop, we're going to see those safety gains." said Rafferty. "We're really going to be seeing those in the years to come."

Many new cars already have some kind of driver assist like lane sensors or parking assistance. The next step is difficult.

There's a ranking system for autonomy. Most of our cars right now are at zero. A five would be fully-automated. Some car makers are developing something in between.

"Through that middle part, there are some issues." Rafferty said. "If that system in the vehicle is taking over more of that driving task, what it does or what our fear is, is that it's going to be inviting even more distracted driving. That's where something like our full scale driving simulator can help us."

The driving simulator is used for a lot of things like testing drivers' cognitive load or simulating construction projects. Now it is also being adapted for automated vehicles.

"So if you're going down the highway," Peter explained. "You can look at your phone and send an email to somebody and then oh my gosh, somebody cut you off. How do you reengage and assess the situation?"

At the same time, the computer science department is working on computer simulations.

"Then we'll see if the program, in the car, in the autonomous vehicle knows what to do when presented with this situation." said UW-Madison mechanical engineering department professor Dan Negrut. "Will it just happily run over the person or will it brake?"

"We're all in that major push to try to find things we can better understand to move the industry forward and ultimately, as Peter pointed out, the autonomous world is coming quick." traffic operations safety lab director David Noyce said.  "Maybe not tomorrow but it's coming quick and we need to get on top of that."


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