News 13 Investigates: Invisible drivers behind the wheel

It's the growing trend that's already taking the guesswork out of parking and helping tou avoid someone in the next lane. Now, even more automated car technology is on the way. But, are you ready to let an invisible driver take the wheel, and is it safe?

News 13 asked the question, "Could we soon all be passengers?"

Just 60 miles south of Asheville, testing's being done that'll change the way you get from one place to another.

Flying DeLoreans, well maybe not yet, but meet Olli.

Olli is a driverless vehicle with artificial intelligence and the ability to learn from transportation data.

Olli sees 360 degrees, it has sensors and multiple fail safe systems, so, it's completely safe.

Mac Devine, a Clemson University graduate, who now works with IBM's Cloud Division, is working with Clemson, MIT and several North Carolina universities using technology like Olli to look to the future. Olli is already cruising private roads south of Washington D.C.

“We're talking about having artificial intelligence, being able to respond at a speed that a human would not be able to, be able to handle a volume of data that a human would not be able to handle,” Devine said.

Devine's partnered with Dr. Joachim Taiber, chief technology officer at the International Transportation Innovation Center, or ITIC, in Greenville, South Carolina, where autonomous features can be put to the test.

“This blue here is my destination and these three selections are my top three best matches for my destination,” explained Andrea Gil, an engineer at ITIC.

This app, being tested at ITIC, but applied to vacationers in Seaside, Florida, will eventually guide autonomous vehicles straight to an empty parking spot, saving time, gas and emissions.

“Leverage in the current infrastructure like cameras and use some computer and algorithms to figure out where is, or what is, available for us,” Gil said.

You can even tell the vehicle where to search, or if you have a residential parking permit.

“When this is all autonomous, the car is the one making the decision and can take the turns and go into navigation for what's required,” Gil said.

If the spot's filled before you arrive, it'll recalculate and find an empty one.

“They already know my information when I sign in, so it just asks for confirmation,” Gil said.

But experts, including Taiber and Devine, aren't sure how driverless vehicles will respond to unmapped roads, reconfigured intersections like Airport Road, temporary detours or pop up construction zones like the one on Patton Avenue.

“If we see some flaws, then we need to understand why that happened,” Taiber said.

Raising questions about safety - the aim of self-driving vehicles.

AAA estimates lane departure systems could reduce fatal head on collisions by 46 percent. But with few fully self-driving cars on the road, researchers can only crunch numbers and use crashes like a Tesla "autopilot" fatality in Florida and Uber's street test in Pittsburgh to make educated guesses as to how safe or unsafe the cars will be or how vulnerable they'll be to hackers. Taiber said test beds should be exposing hacker vulnerabilities and providing solutions.

“Try to hack into the car and find vulnerabilities and then share with the community, so we're working on a consortium approach,” Taiber said.

“We're using cognitive security, we're using our cognitive algorithms, our AI, to actually defend against those kinds of attacks,” Devine said.

While Tesla's vehicles are equipped with the hardware to be self-driving, the company said it's still working on software to make it happen. Other manufacturers are four years away.

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