Experiments involving self-driving cars have highlighted sensor and mapping technologies that evaluate what's going on outside the car. This involves the use of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, which uses laser pulses) and GPS navigation systems.

When it comes to keeping track of what's happening inside the car, industry players are exploring technology that can monitor the preferences and moods of passengers, making it possible to adjust the car's operation to better suit the occupants' feelings.

Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, a Boston-based startup working in this area, recently told Xconomy, “All of our technologies and our devices are becoming conversational and perceptual—even our car."

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By the year 2020, self-driving cars will be a reality on American roadways, according to Nissan Motors. The cars will not only be able to drive themselves, but a Nissan senior executive said they'll also be affordable and energy-efficient. In a demonstration in late August, Nissan showed how its Leaf prototype would use radar sensors, cameras, and laser guidance systems to navigate through traffic, sensing danger on all sides.

The car has the ability to swerve to avoid an obstacle, turn right when a turn signal is engaged by the driver, and even stop for red lights. Recently, Nissan's luxury line, Infiniti, released a car that has the ability to detect obstacles two cars ahead and slow to a stop. The Infiniti already has a "Safety Shield" that can keep a vehicle within lane markers, warn the driver when he or she is about to cross one of those lane markers, and detect obstacles in a vehicle's blind spot.

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