Iowa Ahead of the Nation in Futuristic, Driverless-Vehicle Technology

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- New technology is pushing the latest model cars in directions never thought possible outside of science fiction.

But, the latest vehicle models are moving closer and closer to being able to drive without you behind the wheel, thanks to the state of Iowa.

The 2016 Volvo X-C-90 features an inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine that offers 250 horsepower and 258-foot pounds of torque.

It can drive on its own and it can parallel park itself.

“These little buttons that you see around the car use sound. So ultra-sonic,” said Dr. Daniel McGehee. He emphasizes it is a semi-autonomous vehicle.

“These technologies are not quite to the driverless mode. But if you drift out of the lane, for instance, it will correct your lane position and put you back in the lane,” he said.

McGehee is a vehicle safety researcher at the University of Iowa, which is one of only a handful of institutions in the world developing safety technology that will eventually put driverless vehicles on the roads.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve started to connect the dots between a number of technologies,” McGehee said.

So what’s the missing dot?

“The key to all of this is the kinds of mapping,” McGehee said.

Mapping the roads, and it’s about to start happening in Iowa.

“A high-definition map is mapping the system or segments of the road to the centimeter level. We’re focused on the corridors between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City,” said Paul Trombino, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation.

“It’s a new approach that isn’t happening anywhere in the United States, and we’re pretty excited about that. We think it offers a lot of economic development opportunities,” Trombino said.

He says automated vehicles will be safer since human error causes the most crashes, and they’re going to be here soon.

“It’s not going to be this nice, smooth evolutionary path because there are so many technology companies interested in transportation, especially in vehicle technology. But I think it’s going to come quick,” Trombino said.

It’s an evolution being steered, in part, by Iowa with the University of Iowa in the driver’s seat, and the DOT paving the way.

Right now, the DOT is in the process of finalizing a contract to map roads between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

The project could be complete as soon as next summer.