updated 6/27/2011 11:47:44 AM ET 2011-06-27T15:47:44

While most automakers try to fix the problems with today's tech, Volkswagen is working on tomorrow's. The future of driving, in major cities at least, is looking more and more like it will be done by high-tech computers rather than actual people, at least if the latest breakthroughs in self-driving vehicle technology mean anything.

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Now Volkswagen has presented its Temporary Auto Pilot technology. Monitored by a driver, the technology can allow a car to drive semi-automatically at speeds of up to 80 mph on highways.

It works using a combination of existing technology such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, rolling them all into one comprehensive function. Nonetheless, the driver always retains driving responsibility and is always in control, and must continually monitor it. In this way, Volkswagen only sees it as a stepping stone towards what seems like an eventual future where nobody will be doing any driving.


In the semi-automatic driving mode, the system maintains a safe distance to the vehicle ahead, drives at a speed selected by the driver, reduces this speed as necessary before a bend and maintains the vehicle’s central position with respect to lane markers. The system also observes overtaking rules and speed limits. Additionally, stop and start driving maneuvers in traffic jams are also automated.

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The good news -- or bad, depending on how you look at it -- is that compared to the more advanced autonomous driving technologies, Volkswagen’s latest Temporary Auto Pilot is based on a relatively production-like sensor platform, consisting of production-level radar-, camera- and ultrasonic-based sensors supplemented by a laser scanner and an electronic horizon.

This means that we could see a production version within the next couple of years.

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