AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — The National Science Foundation gave the University at Buffalo a $1.2 million grant so researchers can study self-driving cars and questions that relate to things like safety and efficiency.

It looks like it could be part of a video game but it’s actually at the heart of what’s called iCAVE2, a project that creates realistic scenarios on the road.

“It can be controlled by a computer that’s running the same algorithm that controls self driving vehicles so you will experience what it is like if you’re in a self driving vehicle,” said Chunming Qiao, University at Buffalo Department of Computer Science and Engineering Chair.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo are using driving simulators to study connected and self-driving car technology. Though a self-driving car would basically drive on it’s own, drivers are required to be alert and ready to take over control.

“By using this driving simulator we can test for example whether or not the human being can react to those requests for taking over the control fast enough,” said Qiao.

It tests everything from how people respond to safety messages, oncoming traffic, and even bad weather conditions.

“Difficult decisions that we face now in real time are going to be made for us one day. Especially when you think about Buffalo too where weather is such a factor,” said Kevin Hulme, University at Buffalo Senior Research Associate.

We all know that technology is not always reliable. That’s why Chunming Qiao says it’s important to test it in a simulated environment first. But he says self driving cars could be on the road sooner than you think.

“I’m actually pretty optimistic I think maybe 5 years down the road you will see self driving cars,” said Qiao.

Researchers plan to put road sensors, wireless access points and other equipment on about one mile of North campus roads so they can actually test out self-driving cars on campus as soon as this summer.

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