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7 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Self-Driving Cars

By Chris Neiger – Feb 20, 2016 at 1:22PM

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You've heard about autonomous cars before, but how far along is the technology?

Source: Google.

News flash: You're living in the future. Semi-autonomous vehicles already park themselves, hit the brakes to avoid fender benders, keep themselves in the correct lane on the highway, and can even be summoned to their drivers.

But fully autonomous cars will take all of that even further. Check out these self-driving stats to see where the future of car automation is headed: 

  • It's no secret that Alphabet (GOOG -2.90%) (GOOGL -2.99%) is a leader in self-driving car technology -- and it's spent a lot of money to get there. But do you know the scope of the company's efforts? IHS Automotive estimates that the company has already shelled out $60 million for its autonomous vehicle research, and the company is already on its third generation of an autonomous vehicle. All of those self-driving tests have added up to 1 million miles driven without human drivers.

  • While we're still at the beginning stages of autonomous car tech, a self-driving car has already driven itself across America. An Audi SQ5 SUV used Delphi's (DLPH) hardware and software to drive 3,400 miles nearly all on its own, from San Francisco to New York, in 2015.

  • The term "driverless car" may actually be a misnomer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) -- the U.S. governing body that sets vehicle safety standards -- recently said that the artificial intelligence software in an autonomous car is the driver. "NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants. We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years," the NHTSA recently wrote to Google. So self-driving cars aren't actually driving themselves. A driver is, which is the software.
  • If you live in a part of the country that's predisposed to a fluffy, white substance that regularly falls from the sky in winter (and about 70% of you do) then you may not want to get into an autonomous car any time soon. Volvo found that snowflakes stuck to sensors and completely incapacitated its self-driving research SUVs in Sweden earlier this month. The researchers think they've figured out a workaround, though, and are moving the sensors from the front of the car to the front of the windshield, which should allow the windshield wipers to keep the sensors from going blind.

  • 2017 will be the first year of real-world autonomous car testing, with car owners able to take the wheel. Volvo says it will lease 100 fully autonomous vehicles to customers in two years, and they'll drive themselves along a controlled 31-mile stretch of road in Gothenburg, Sweden. Though they'll be on real roadways, the vehicles will be separated from pedestrians and cyclists, and won't face any on-coming traffic situations.

  • The U.S. government is getting in on the autonomous car action, too. The Obama administration recently said it will help speed along autonomous car progress with $4 billion in funding over the next 10 years. The government is interested in the technology because self-driving cars could reduce traffic fatalities by 90% by 2050, or about 30,000 lives each year.

  • We're still a little ways away from hopping into our autonomous cars and speeding off to work. IHS Automotive says there will be 12 million self-driving cars sold annually by 2035, but autonomous car ubiquity won't happen until sometime after 2050. That's not slowing down Mobileye (MBLY) though. The company is working on a system that uses it EyeQ chips to send small bits of map data to the cloud so they can be crowdsourced to other autonomous vehicles. The more vehicles collect data around them, the smarter the autonomous car mapping system will get. 

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares) and Alphabet (C shares). We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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