Texas A&M showcases latest autonomous vehicle technology

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BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX) - A future with cars that drive themselves isn't in too far off. It's right here and now.

Self-driving cars are already making an appearance at Texas A&M. Friday afternoon, News 3 rode along with Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp in an electric golf cart-like vehicle.

“It’s fully autonomous so at the moment it will it has steering and throttle control. It’s all drive by wire so we control the vehicle entirely from the computer," said Garrison Neel, who is a Texas A&M Ph.D. Student..

Neel has has been working on the project since January. While a bit jarring, the vehicle even stops for objects and those pesky pedestrians.

"At the moment our safety measures are a bit conservative but we feel it's probably the best approach to start out with fine tune it," he added.

Texas A&M plans to launch an autonomous vehicle shuttle service this summer and someday you could even see driver-less buses.

Transportation experts from across the country gathered at the Stella Hotel for the second annual Texas A&M Transportation Technology Conference.

"They've got some pretty exciting plans under way with the TTI as the lead institution. Texas has been designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the national automated vehicle proving ground for the testing of connected and automated vehicle technology. Besides TTI the Texas AV proving grounds partnership includes TxDOT, UT-Austin Center for Transportation Research. Southwest Research Institute and 32 municipal and regional partners," said John Sharp, Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System.

The Texas A&M Transportation Institute also had the first ever public demonstration of truck platooning. The technique allows 18-wheelers to follow a lead vehicle at closer distances.

"I know some folks get a little scared seeing vehicles driving themselves. But A when the machine is driving the machine is a lot more safer assuming the engineering was all done correctly than the human, because you don't have that human element," said Mike Lukuc, Texas A&M Transportation Institute Program Manager.

TxDOT sponsored the research. They see advantages including more fuel efficiency, relieving congestion and reducing truck driver fatigue.

"So the front driver is in control of the platoon. The following drivers are, they're engaged from a mental standpoint but physically they're disengaged from the process," said Marco Cameron, a TxDOT Transportation Engineer.

Next month, the electric golf cart will provide autonomous shuttle service from Traditions to the Stella Hotel.

Truck platooning tests could start on Texas roads in the coming years.