VIRGINIA

Virginia Tech, Google test driverless cars

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Google is working with Virginia Tech researchers to bring its vision of cars that can drive themselves one step closer to reality.

The technology company spent the past month in Blacksburg testing one of its self-driving cars at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute's Smart Road.

Semiautonomous cars switch control back and forth between the driver and the vehicle. Google wanted to know how well people were able to manage these transitions, among other questions.

The Roanoke Times reports that drivers were put behind the wheel and confronted with a range of scenarios to see how they responded.

Google supplied the car, Virginia Tech provided the expertise and transportation officials provided $2 million in funding.

"It's been a great partnership," said Susan Molinari, Google's vice president of public policy and government affairs. "We're so proud of the work that we're doing with you all to make the roads safer and more secure in the future."

The car has a spinning device on the roof that helps it keep track of where it is. It's also equipped with laser range finders, radar and cameras to monitor its surroundings and react accordingly.

Google and Virginia Tech hosted an event Tuesday to show off the car. The demonstration began with Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith taking a couple of test laps around the closed track as they showed off its ability to safely follow a human-driven vehicle and perform an emergency stop.

"To see it out here operating in more highway conditions really tells you that Google is a pioneer in an area most people don't think about Google as doing," he said. "But it's technology that is going to revolutionize transportation, the automotive industry and perhaps most importantly of all . it's going to enhance automobile safety and I think efficiency as well."

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