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Continental Develops Semi-Autonomous Car Technology

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Continental's semi-autonomous VW Passat

Continental's semi-autonomous VW Passat

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We've all been there: Stuck in traffic, or whooshing along endless stretches of highway, just wishing we were already at our destination.

That's where autonomous vehicle technology comes in, and the concept is being explored by several different companies.

That list now includes Continental. Autoweek reports that the tire company has an experimental semi-autonomous vehicle, and it's done nearly 10,000 miles of road testing so far.

As with Google's initial autonomous car testing (the company now uses a Prius), Continental is using a Volkswagen Passat.

A selection of high-tech features work together to allow semi-autonomous driving. LIDAR (light detection and ranging) and camera systems allow the vehicle to scan the road ahead for obstructions, and ensure it stops before hitting them.

This is very similar technology to that used in some Volvos and Mercedes at the moment, and is expected to be a common feature in the coming years. Companies like Audi are even developing an all-round system that drives the car in traffic jams.

Active cruise control enables the car to flow with the traffic on faster roads, speeding up and slowing down as necessary. An "Emergency Steer Assist" system helps drivers swerve to avoid hazards, and a force-feedback accelerator pedal to encourage more efficient driving.

While the systems are there to help, all can be overridden by driver input, so the system isn't fully autonomous.

Continental's Passat has done more than 6,600 of its 10,000 miles autonomously, so the technology clearly works.

The engineers say the technology is of most use on long, boring freeway runs, which normally require more concentration than you'd expect and can be quite fatiguing. With the autonomous systems, you can step out after a long journey much more refreshed.

Continental considers it "driver assist" technology, rather than something to take over driving entirely, but in testing the car has operated well on the highway, slowing with traffic, avoiding construction cones and edging along with stop-and-go traffic.

While many are uneasy over the though of their cars driving for them, autonomous cars are getting closer and closer to production reality, and some states--such as Nevada--have already given the technology the green light.

We just hope autonomous cars don't become mandatory...
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