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At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, visitors endured long lines to get a glimpse of an exhibit that promised to show them the future, which at that time meant 1960. Appropriately dubbed “Futurama,” one of the exhibit’s bold predictions was the emergence of cars controlled by radio.

Fast-forward to today and some of the latest high-tech vehicles to be announced include innovative technology that makes the cars intelligent enough to drive themselves. And while splashy additions like customizable LCD displays are nice, these cars are being designed to make the roads safer for everyone.

Did You Know?

1M miles the distance driven by one driverless testing fleet.

Radar, Lasers and Cameras (Oh My!)Driverless vehicles use radar and car-to-car communication to track and anticipate the movements of other cars on the road. Some driverless fleets use Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), a technology with laser beams that measure the distance from a vehicle to its surroundings within a 200-foot radius. Cameras in the vehicle serve as the eyes, reading road signs and helping the vehicle obey the rules of the road (red light means stop, for example).

Your GPS, But BetterThe standard GPS that comes in a new vehicle—or the one you use through your phone or a device attached to the windshield—is probably pretty good at getting you where you need to go. In a driverless vehicle, GPS gets you to your destination via mapping, but it needs to go a step further. Autonomous vehicles need directions for where to drive, and also need to react to constant changes happening on the road. Camera and radar technology helps the car react to these variables.

Green MachinesEnvironmental concerns are also a motivator—because they’re generally powered either by electricity or fuel cells rather than gasoline, autonomous vehicles promise to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

HOW DRIVERLESS VEHICLES WORK

Radar Sensors: Deployed around the vehicle to help it monitor the surrounding traffic.

Video Cameras: Read road signs and watch for other vehicles, pedestrians, and objects in the road.

Central Computer and Software: Helps the vehicle steer, brake, and obey speed limits and other traffic rules.

Don’t Let Go of the Wheel Just YetWhile we are much closer to the future of driving now, human instincts still have an edge. For instance, human drivers can react to adverse conditions like bad weather and adjust accordingly. Driverless vehicles aren’t quite there, yet. The rules of the road are also learned over time, as evident during a recent autonomous vehicle test where the car decided that the safest, most law-abiding thing to do in a roundabout was to never exit.