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Fans of the iconic 1980 comedy flick Airplane! may smirk at the image of a blow-up "autopilot" materializing on the controls of the not-quite-doomed aircraft. Those folks (c'mon, we know you're out there) may now imagine a similar site behind the wheel of a long-haul 18-wheeler. Think of it at Zucker Bros. meets B.J. and the Bear. Or something like that.

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An automaker like Audi will always have a number of different research and development projects going at the same time, and some of them might take on very different approaches. At one end, you'll have its racing programs, and at what you'd assume would be the other, self-driving prototypes. But Ingolstadt is preparing to bridge that gap by running an autonomous prototype at racing speed around the famed Hockenheimring.

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Does size matter? It could when it comes to self-driving vehicles and a small new hockey-puck shaped device that, when affixed to a vehicle, shoots out lasers to collect data-mapping points. That data is then used to guide an autonomous vehicle down the road. The size – both of the device itself and the potential price tag – is what's interesting here.

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We all know that self-driving cars are coming. It's not so much a question of If so much as When. And when it comes to General Motors products, we now have something of a date to work with, as Cadillac has announced plans to roll out what it is calling Super Cruise technology in an unnamed new model within the next two years. As you would expect, this new tech can speed the car up, slow it down and keep it in its intended lane, but GM isn't expected to release a fully self-driving car, saying th

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At what point does a car cease to be a car and start becoming a people-mover? One survey hints that we're less than two decades away from that eventuality. Whether auto enthusiasts think that's a good thing is another matter altogether.

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Despite the arrival of the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell later this spring and other hydrogen offerings from Toyota and Honda in 2015, some automotive industry watchers are saying hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles will finally attain mass-market popularity in 2030. And that's from the industry outlet Hydrogen Fuel News.

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Renault says it's less than six years away from saving the commuting world a bunch of hours of work, not to mention a lot of gas and a few accidents. The French automaking giant is touting its Next Two prototype, which is based on the Renault Zoe platform and marks the company's entry into the autonomous-driving field.

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With drivers theoretically relieved from the duty of actually having to drive the car, they can now spend time figuring out what "Zoox" actually means. The start-up unveiled its concept at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November and is now ready to reveal a few more details about its utopian mission of autonomous vehicles on its website.

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One group of people eagerly awaiting the arrival of autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are lawyers, according to a recent report on CNET. While the soon-to-arrive vehicles are sure to save countless lives (after cigarettes, motorized vehicles are the second most dangerous consumer product on the market – thanks to human operators), a host of legal opportunities will emerge with regards to product liability, tort law, negligence, foreseeable harm, patent encumbrance, and design defects.

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In just a handful of years, autonomous car technology has taken amazing strides forward. In particular, the highly visible Google self-driving car effort has garnered loads of media attention for its impressive and fast-evolving technology. In fact, Google is reasonably confident that its autonomous technology can be brought to the marketplace in the next three to five years.

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Like it or not, autonomous vehicles are on the way, and much is being done to study their integration into the world's transportation networks. As part of its own development of driver assistance systems, General Motors has begun to look driver behavior behind the wheels of self-driving vehicles; innovations like Cadillac semi-autonomous Super Cruise are designed to "ease the driver's workload" on the highway, but it will be good to know what drivers plan on doing to occupy their time.

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California is on its way to taking a ride with the autonomous car. By a vote of 37-0, the State Senate approved Senate Bill 1298 (you can read it here) that begins to establish how guidelines on and oversight of self-driving vehicles will be handled.

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Whether it's Volvo's project SARTRE or Google's driverless car, autonomous vehicles are on the horizon. The question now becomes, what will the view of that horizon look like when they get here.

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Automobiles are getting smarter, and it's possible that cars may be able to handle most of the driving duties in the not-too-distant future. Are motorists ready to enter that reality? The U.S. Department of Transportation is curious to find out, and tests are about to get underway to find out how much faith motorists can comfortably put in the hands of an autonomous vehicle.

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Google Driverless Car – Click above to view video after the jump

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ABC News goes for a spin with one of Google's driverless cars – Click above to watch video after the jump

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ABC News goes for a spin with one of Google's driverless cars – Click above to watch video after the jump

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