Computer take the wheel: Self-driving cars in bay area by 2021, but how safe are they?

No road rage, no rubbernecking will help traffic

LAKELAND, Fla - Dr. Dean Bushey, the chatty king of autonomous systems technology at Florida Polytechnic University, says you or someone you know -- or, more likely, someone cruising next to you on I-4 texting their Aunt Shirley behind the wheel -- will own a self-driving car by the year 2021.

Flying cars? Never happened. But Knight Rider's KITT? You bet! Self-driving automobiles are very much a reality -- and could someday greatly reduce Florida traffic congestion simply by eliminating human error: distracted drivers, slow drivers, tailgaters, road-ragers. 

Apple announced this week that they'll soon begin testing their self-driving fleet in California. Uber had a much publicized debut in Pittsburgh. But as far as everyone owning a self-driving car, Bushey says that's about three or four years down, ahem, the road: "Ford, Tesla, they're all saying 2021, and I would concur with that."

Self-driving cars work via a complex system of sensors, lights, connectivity to other cars on the road -- plus that big cyber-throbbing computer brain.

"The safety factor is big," he says. "You can take your eyes off the road, maybe answer your phone or text, and the car is going to be there to back you up, as a co-pilot, as a driver....For the older population in Florida, now they'll have a way to get around -- they can just get on the phone and said, 'Car, come pick me up.'"

"It's going to be expensive" at first, says Bushey, who teaches a Florida Polytechnic class of incredibly smart kids whose main goal is to make a self-driving car, albeit a smaller model version. But by 2030, he figures everyone should be able to afford a fully automated self-driving car. "My son, maybe my grandson, when they buy a car, it will someday be commonplace."

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