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Self-Driving Trucks Being Tested In Nevada

freightliner_.jpg

Self-driving truck
John Locher/AP

The Daimler Freightliner Inspiration, a self-driving long-haul truck, is seen during an event at the Hoover Dam, May 5, 2015, near Boulder City, Nev.

Wouldn't it be nice to sit in your car and relax as it drove you where you wanted to go?

The idea of a car that can drive itself has been the subject of fascination for a long time – almost as long as cars have been on the road, really.

Google's been testing a fleet of modified SUVs that can drive themselves, and plans to produce its own autonomous car sometime in the next few years.

Other companies are trying to get in on the game too.

Daimler, the German car and truck company, unveiled a self-driving semi-truck here in Nevada earlier this month.

Sean O'Kane is a writer for The Verge. He got a chance to ride in one of the self-driving trucks. 

"I don't have much experience driving a big rig but it was surprising normal," O'Kane said. "You are watching it drive itself, but I was comfortable the whole time."

He said the truck only drove on straight roads and there wasn't a lot of maneuvering. 

"They want this technology to supplement drivers, at least for now," O'Kane said.

Currently, drivers have to take the self-driving trucks on and off the freeway and if there is a problem, it signals the driver to help.

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O'Kane said despite the current limitations he can see it being totally autonomous in the future.

"A lot of work needs to be done to broaden this technology and part of that is testing it in new regions," O'Kane said.

Right now, the trucks and cars can only test in Florida, California, Michigan and Nevada.

Scott Santens is a journalist who has written about the impact self-driving trucks will have on the economy. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that even though he embraces the technology, it will effect jobs.

"This is going to effect not just truck drivers -- and as far as self-driving cars go, not just taxi drivers -- it's going to effect all those who depend on those incomes as well," Santens said.

He pointed to truck stops as just one place where jobs will be impacted. 

Santens also said it could lead to whole towns along the interstate being hurt economically because drivers wouldn't need to stop.   

"Let's say you leave in your car at 11:00 p.m.," he said. "You go to sleep in your car and you arrive at your destination the next day. You don't have to worry about anything -- you're just there."

He said the impact could be similar to what happened to towns cut off by the interstate system that bypassed state highways.

Guests

Scott Santens, journalist and author; Sean O'Kane, writer, The Verge