PennDOT chief, U.S. congressman to make Western Pa. trip in driverless vehicle
A luxurious Cadillac cruising along the busy Parkway West with midday traffic on Wednesday will contain a state cabinet member, a congressman and two engineers — but no driver.
The thousands of motorists who drive the 30-mile stretch on Route 19, Interstate 79 and the Parkway West to Pittsburgh International Airport likely won't know about the ordinary-looking experimental driverless car, but that's OK.
The Pennsylvania State Police didn't know about it either until a Tribune-Review reporter called on Tuesday.
The demonstration is part of a collaboration between General Motors and Carnegie Mellon University.
“That might be the wave of the future, but we're more concerned about (Wednesday) and what safeguards are being put in place to not cause disruption to traffic or endanger anyone on the roads or in that car,” state police spokeswoman Maria Finn said. She said police weren't asked to provide an escort or restrict traffic.
Carnegie Mellon and General Motors developed the specially equipped Cadillac SRX crossover that will carry PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch and U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg.
“There is nothing for the public to worry about. We always have a human in the driver's seat, ready to take over at a moment's notice,” said Raj Rajkumar, a Carnegie Mellon electrical and computer engineering professor and co-director of the CMU-General Motors Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab.
The Pittsburgh-area road test will begin at 11 a.m. at the Cranberry Public Works Department. The vehicle will travel through busy areas where vehicles routinely merge and turn, start and stop and exceed 50 mph.
“If that thing can navigate Route 19, it can navigate anything,” said Tim Rogers, president of Cranberry Messenger Service on Route 19 near the test run's starting point.
Fully autonomous — or driverless — vehicles can run on their own with the help of computers, sensors and other technology, though a person can take control at any time. Many newer vehicles have semi-autonomous features, such as collision-avoidance systems that apply brakes before a vehicle can strike an object.
Carnegie Mellon spokesman Byron Spice said a university vehicle will trail the autonomous one to serve as “a buffer” between it and regular traffic.
Spice said a human-driven vehicle rear-ended an autonomous one that Google developed during a 2010 road test in California. A year later, one of Google's autonomous vehicles rear-ended a traditional car. Investigators linked both crashes to human error.
Finn said no Pennsylvania traffic laws exist regarding autonomous vehicles. Standard rules of the road apply, but it is not clear who would take the blame if an autonomous vehicle broke a traffic law or caused a crash.
“Who gets cited? We're fighting computers now,” Finn said.
Schoch said “the ride-along marks a turning point for the future of transportation not only in Pennsylvania, but across the nation.” He has been a proponent of the autonomous technology, saying it could make roads safer and less congested.
PennDOT recruited CMU to help the agency prepare for the day when autonomous vehicles are the norm. A study that began this year is looking at ways to regulate the vehicles and how they might affect future policy decisions.
CMU is a leader in the field. Five years ago, the university developed a fully autonomous sport utility vehicle that won a 60-mile road race sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The SUV traveled at an average speed of 14 mph.
“The technology has come very far, very quickly,” Rajkumar said.
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.