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Self-driving vehicle technology is coming to many new cars

Although fully autonomous vehicles may still be some time away, a number of automakers are beginning to integrate similar technology into ordinary cars, trucks and SUVs. Since federal data indicates that some 94 percent of motor vehicle wrecks are caused by human error, these technologies hold great promise.

It's important to realize that these new technologies are not meant to replace drivers but to assist them. A self-driving Uber vehicle recently struck and killed a pedestrian, so even technology thought to be road-ready may have weaknesses. That said, here are a few items you will find soon in high-end vehicles -- and hopefully soon enough in mainstream cars and trucks:

Lidar. Either alone or in conjunction with radar, cameras and sensors, lidar ("light detection and ranging") systems can see clearly in darkness and stormy weather. Existing lidar technology has been limited to seeing large objects like vehicles, and only from about 10 meters. However, upcoming systems are expected to be able to see pedestrians and bicyclists from further away. Audi plans to introduce a lidar system in its A8 sedan this fall that can take over for the driver during slow-moving traffic jams.

Attention and focus. Volkswagen has a contract with a company called NVIDIA to produce a system in the next couple of years that can tell where a driver is looking. It adjusts by focusing its sensors on what the driver isn't paying attention to. Furthermore, if an obstacle appears outside the driver's attention zone, the vehicle can sound a warning or even stop the car.

Sign readers. Mercedes S-Class cars will soon have cameras that can read speed limit signs and warn drivers who exceed the limit. It can also recognize construction zones and challenging areas like roundabouts and sharp curves.

That light is going to change. It would be helpful to know exactly when it will so you don't run it, or so you can adjust your speed so you don't have to stop. Some Audi cars and SUVs have been hooked into the traffic light systems of several cities and can give the driver a countdown until the light will turn yellow. Ultimately, it should be able to warn you when another driver is about to run a red light.

Behind you. Before you change lanes, you should always look over your shoulder -- unless you're in Hyundai's new Nexo. As soon as you activate a turn signal, the Nexo activates a camera on that side of the car to show what is behind you in that lane.

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