Autonomous vehicles can control and navigate themselves, "in the absence of a human being," said Wolfgang Fink, an associate professor and keonjian chair at the UA's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Fink has been developing an autonomous rover, which can be controlled with an iPhone or iPad. The vehicle can also use LiDAR, a kind of laser sensor, to recognize obstacles or to follow someone around. The vehicle is further equipped with cameras, which use algorithms to determine what items within range are of interest to the rover.
Fink said such technologies will make it possible for consumers to buy driver-less cars soon - likely within the next ten years. It will also be possible, in the future, for a vehicle to navigate itself around a planet or other space object.
Here on Earth, autonomous vehicle technology promises to make roads safer, by eliminating human error. These vehicles, however, raise interesting legal questions.
"One of the biggest legal issues will be the privacy implications of autonomous vehicles" said Jane Bambauer, an associate professor of law at the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law. According to Bambauer, driver-less vehicles generate a lot of data about people's travel patterns. "Some of it is stored in the car, but some of it will inevitably be transmitted to the manufacturer, too."
The legal system will likely be involved in deciding what happens to that data next. For instance, determining if it will be available to advertisers who can generate targeted ads while people drive, or perhaps to law enforcement officials.
Another legal question raised is, who is at fault in an accident?
"That, too, is going to, I think, put some strain on how we normally think about resolving an accident between two people," she said.
However, because the driver may no longer be at fault for an accident could drive people to buy these cars.
In some cases, Bambauer said, states will need to overhaul their traffic laws. Three state legislatures, in Florida, California and Nevada have already taken up legislation to start paving the way for driver-less cars.
Driver-Less Cars Legal Concerns