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State Courts Driverless Car Tech

IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Your future drive to work may not require much work at all, thanks to driverless car technology.

If University of Iowa researchers and statewide economic developers have their way, Iowa will be behind the wheel of that technology.

Dan McGehee is the director of the Human Factors and Vehicle Safety Research program at UI, and on Friday, he took a 2013 Ford Explorer for a spin to show off its automated features -- the very beginnings of automated driving. Heading toward a red light at the intersection of Melrose Avenue and Mormon Trek Road, he turned on the SUV's adaptive cruise control, and took his feet off the pedals.

The traffic stopped, so did he.

"That's completely automated braking," McGehee said.

Sarah Banks is the owner of the SUV, and said she loves the automated cruise control, especially when her husband is driving.

"There is no tailgating, where you're sitting there and you're all nervous, becuase they're too close to the car in front of you," Banks said.

McGehee drove the SUV onto I-380, where he intentionally drifted off the road. The SUV's windshield camera is able to read the paint lines on the roadway, and corrected itself.

"It's telling me it wants me to put my fingers back on, my hands back on the wheel," McGehee said about a prompt that pops up on the SUV's dash.

Every warning the SUV makes is accompanied by mellow-sounding ding when the vehicle wants the driver to react or regain control. That little ding interrupts the radio, Bluetooth, and GPS sounds, Banks said.

Drifting off the road the way McGehee did is the no. 1 cause of car crashes in Iowa. Nationwide, 90 percent of crashes are caused by human error. Annually, those crashes kill 30,000 Americans. McGehee and others view automated driving as a public health solution.

"We can only look one way at a time. When you're in a car that has cameras searching 360 degrees, 300 meters out, seeing things we never can," you can prevent a lot of crashes, said Iowa City Area Development Group executive director Mark Nolte.

Take the person out of the equation, and save her life, a reassuring thought for Banks.

"I've never had it do something that I didn't want it to do," she said.

Someday, Banks' car will do all her driving for her, at least that's where the industry could head, McGehee said.

Last week, he, Nolte, and other economic developers attended a symposium in Silicon Valley to tell tech companies and automakers: Iowa should be your testing ground.

"Our job as economic developers is: what's the next big thing that's coming and do we have a play? Do we have a fit? And this one, it's a resounding absolutely.

Combine Iowa's varied weather with its open roads, add to that the lack of governmental restrictions on driverless vehicles and the National Advanced Driving Simulator at UI, and Iowa is a formidable fit. Even Google thought so.

"Their lobbyists said, 'That's where we want to start,'" Nolte said.

ICAD is planning follow up meetings with Google and other companies, Nolte said.

On Thursday, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved a proclamation welcoming driverless car testing. Many Corridor cities plan to do the same in the coming weeks, McGehee said.
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