Have you been dreaming of a road trip without the pressure of driving long distances or late at night? What if you could take a driverless car on a road trip? The technology may be available sooner than you think!

The invention of automobile technology such as advanced driver assistance systems, adaptive cruise control and active parking assistance have automated modern automobiles. While the idea of driverless cars may seem farfetched at first, perhaps total automation is the next great automobile safety advancement. Driverless technology is just around the corner, and here’s what you should know:

Safety Benefits

One of the leading factors behind the development of driverless automobiles is safety. Car accidents cost the United States nearly $300 billion every year, according to AAA, and each citizen bears a part of that cost. Self-driving automobiles would theoretically communicate with one another and eliminate the potential for drivers to miscalculate and cause an accident. This could save many lives — the Eno Center for Transportation estimates American roads would see 211,000 less crashes every year if just 10 percent of vehicles were replaces with autonomous ones. While the idea of millions of modern cars being replaced with driverless automobiles seems futuristic at first, the reality is we could start using the Internet to shop for new cars that are controlled by computers rather than steering wheels in the near future.

The Future is Near

The company leading the charge towards driverless technology may surprised you – tech giant Google announced recently that it plans to put into testing approximately 200 of its in-house developed two seat driverless cars. These driverless cars feature no steering wheel, gas or brake pedal, though early prototypes are required by the state of California to feature a manual override.

These current test models use a roof-mounted 360 degree laser to scan around the vehicle and determine its relative location while a front-mounted radar system detects and measures the speed of vehicles ahead. This data, along with GPS and internal sensor data, is fed to a processor that regulates the car’s speed and behavior. Combined with software that determines what nearby objects are obstacles and dangers such as pedestrians and cyclists, the prototype car makes all of the calculations and decisions a driver normally would. This shocking jump from semi-automated systems like assisted parking to total automation puts Google at the forefront of this technological movement.

While these prototypes are currently slated for testing on the roads surrounding Google’s Mountain View headquarters at the end of this summer, it’s unlikely the company will begin manufacturing its own driverless cars for public purchase anytime soon. These prototypes are more likely an attempt by Google to perfect the software of driverless systems to license to the big auto manufacturers, who have a vested interest in the development of cars that solve many of the safety and accessibility issues of modern vehicles. Drunk and distracted driving could become a thing of the past, and many disabled or elderly consumers who could not safely drive a modern vehicle could finally experience the freedom of the road. Automated driving developments mean huge future profits for auto manufacturers, and the era of the driverless car is just around the corner.