Driverless car cruises Harrisburg searching for support

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Buckle up — driverless cars are coming.

Wednesday researchers from Carnegie Mellon University brought theirs to the Capitol. It begs the question: What does the future hold for cars and drivers in Pennsylvania?

You probably didn’t even know you were sharing the road with a self-driving car in Harrisburg. The researchers say that’s kind of the point.

Downtown streets near the Capitol would be the test course, a slightly nervous Mayor Eric Papenfuse the first test subject.

“I have never attempted anything like this before,” he said before taking the first ride of the morning, “so I will come back and give you a full report.”

The Cadillac — bought off the lot and fitted with the necessary equipment — was in the Midstate courtesy of CMU’s Traffic21 Institute.

Researchers there want to promote the technology to lawmakers.

“We see this industry developing, we see it developing in Pennsylvania,” said Stan Caldwell, executive director of the program. “How can we be prepared for this? How can we make sure that this is happening, but happening safely?”

ABC27 took a ride. It was solidly unremarkable, which is really what they’re going for.

There were a couple spots where the driver had to take control, but it was really just a ride in the car.

(Take a look at the 360-degree video below. You can click and drag the video to see different perspectives in the car during a demonstration Wednesday. The researcher in the driver’s seat is not controlling the steering, acceleration or braking in this clip.)

“In many ways, it’s easier than riding a bike,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, who also rode in the car Wednesday. “You just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

She’s confident in the technology, calling it the “next big leap” in safety.

“Just like we saw with the use of seat belts, the use of airbags,” she said, “autonomous technology is going to get us to that next step in reducing the number of fatal crashes.”

The city is confident in the tech, too; workers installed transmitters at stop lights to talk to the car along its fixed route circling the Capitol Complex.

Papenfuse called his ride a little eerie — but impressive.

After they finished at the Capitol, the car headed back to CMU so researchers can continue their work.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC27 News App and the ABC27 Weather App for your phone and tablet.

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