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Testing underway in Arizona for self-driving cars

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Automobile experts say self-driving cars will make driving safer, faster and more accessible for all.

If you call an Uber in the Valley of the Sun, you may just take a ride that’s unlike anything you’ve experienced – one where the driver is only there for, “just in case.”

“If at any point Nick (the driver) doesn’t like what he sees, all he has to do is touch the break. Touch the throttle, touch the steering wheel in any kind of way, and he reclaims control of the vehicle, said Dima Dislovskiy, a senior technical program manager with Uber’s self-driving cars.

Dislovskiy said the vehicle sees all around it, constantly.

The first thing people notice is an object spinning atop the car called Lidar.

“It’s a laser. It’s doing a 360 degree sweep around the vehicle. What it helps us do is detect the range of various objects,” said Dislovskiy.

Working kind of like sonar, along with seven cameras and on-board radar, it gives vehicles a 3-dimensional, high-definition view of everything around it.”

If it’s big enough to cast a shadow, Uber said the Lidar can see it and the car can process it.

Uber has been testing the vehicles, which cost up to $300,000 once assembled, for more than a year.

Traveling a combined 2-million miles and 50,000 trips.

David Statt rode in a self-driving car said, “It was perfect. The ride was absolutely smooth.”

Turns out, a survey reveals most Americans are still too scared to ride in a self-driving car.

According to the new study by AAA, 63 percent said they’re too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle. That’s down from 78 percent last year.

Dislovskiy said, “We must be safer than a human, anywhere we operate.”

Brian Cullinane with Uber said, “We change those perceptions by bringing this technology to real people. And having people experience it.”

Creating access for the average person is the goal.

It’s not just Uber. Waymo, a Google spin-off company is advertising a fleet of self-driving cars on the same public roads around Phoenix.

Intel is also testing self-driving vehicles around Phoenix.

Arizona is a prime testing ground because it predictably dry weather. It doesn’t have snow or ice covering the streets. And the traffic is relatively consistent in Phoenix, which makes it easy to navigate a grid system. Also, the state has no rules. Arizona has stripped away any possible regulations, creating a hands-of environment for testing self-driving cars.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said he welcomes self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads.

Last June, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made a similar move, signing an executive order, clearing the way for testing.

He and others cited studies, which found 90 percent of car crashes are caused by human error.

“It doesn’t drive drunk. It doesn’t drive distracted. It doesn’t eat cheeseburgers and miss somebody stepping out in a crosswalk,” said Inslee.

Still, Uber said there’s more learning and more testing to be done before these cars are available across the country.

“I think we’re right at the start of it. We’re figuring out how this technology can really be developed, and we see the promise in it and we will get there,” said Cullinane.

Uber also said it has not had a single accident caused by one of its self-driving cars.

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