Public offered test rides in self-driving car on Selmon Expressway

- An automated car is taking over the express lanes of the Selmon Expressway this week and the public will get a chance to take a ride.

Frank Menchaca, with the Society of Automotive Engineers, explains the self-driving vehicle is operates just as it would with a human behind the wheel.

“This is a car that operates at probably four levels of autonomy, as defined by SAE. So it can basically perform all of the functions or most of the functions of a driver,” Menchaca said.

The automated car is equipped with LiDAR sensors; light-sensing technology that can detect things like obstacles or pedestrians - but it’s not perfect.

"There are certain things that sensors don’t detect because of color, that might be obfuscated," Menchaca said. "So the whole point of demo days like this is to continue to test and refine how the car operates, and just as important to help educate the public about what they’re doing."

Menchaca said there's a lot of work that still needs to be done, in that there needs to be a definition of what safety for these vehicles is.

"What defines a cut-in from another car?" Menchaca asked. "Some people say it's when the tire crosses the white line. Some people say it's when the tire crosses part of the white line. In order to benchmark safety, we have to come up with an agreed-upon set of principles and an agreed-upon vocabulary for automated driving."

During the demo, the automated vehicle sensed a car stopped ahead. Sensors mounted around the perimeter checked for blind spots and space in the next lane over. The car safely switched lanes and continued on.

Menchaca says overcoming obstacles like this proves there’s tremendous potential.

“Just think about it - the idea that a person who has limited mobility, who is visually impaired, or who simply doesn’t want to drive anymore now has the ability and the independence to be picked up, to be driven somewhere," he said.

The test-drives will continue on the Lee Selmon Expressway for the next several days.

To sign up for an opportunity to take a test-ride, you can email strategy@insights.sae.org or click over to the official website

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