By the year 2020, your car could be doing the driving as you sit back and enjoy the ride.
That's the implication of the research taking place at Carnegie Mellon University as part of a joint, five-year, $5 million partnership with General Motors. Though the partnership was announced yesterday, work already has gotten under way.
Research at the laboratory is focusing on "creating and maturing the underlying technologies required to build the autonomous vehicle of the future," said Raj Rajkumar, a CMU professor and a co-director of the lab.
The lab is actually the second such facility for CMU and GM; the first GM-Carnegie Mellon Collaborative Research Laboratory was established in 2000, and work there continues today.
"Imagine being virtually chauffeured safely in your car while doing your e-mail, eating breakfast and watching the news," said Larry Burns, GM vice president of Research and Development and Strategic Planning.
"We foresee a future where vehicles will be aware of their surroundings and to react accordingly," said Alan Taub, executive director of GM Research and Development.
"We will begin with technology involving warning the driver of issues, to helping the driver address those issues. The goal is full autonomous driving, where in fact, the vehicle is driving itself and the driver becomes a passenger."
Work at the lab will involve everything from electronics and software to wireless technology and digital mapping, Mr. Burns said.
So when can drivers expect to become passengers in their own vehicles?
"If you had asked that 10 years ago, we would have said that would have required a lot of changes in our infrastructure first," Mr. Taub said.
"But with the technology we are working on now, we believe ... that you could start to see the technology for full autonomy for the car in the 2020 time frame, with some limited use or applications on highways before then."
The research activity greatly enhances CMU's already strong reputation with the auto industry.
"GM's been working with CMU on a project basis for at least 20 years. We hire a lot of CMU engineers and researchers, and they were one of the first of two universities where we launched a collaborative research laboratory," said Mr. Taub.
The new lab is expected to allow CMU to leverage large amounts of federal research dollars.
The first lab attracted $4 of federal funds for every dollar of the $1.5 million that CMU received from GM, according to Pradeep K. Khosla, dean of the College of Engineering at CMU.
GM also sponsored Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing team, which won the Pentagon-sponsored DARPA Urban Challenge robot race last year, claiming a $2 million prize.
That event featured driverless vehicles negotiating a 55-mile course in Victorville, Calif.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Don Hammonds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1538 or 412-263-1538.