Cars could be driving themselves within 25 years, according Sebastian Thrun, creator of the most advanced robotic car yet.
Thrun and his team from Stanford University in California were behind Stanley, a VW Touareg-based car that won a $2m prize for autonomous vehicles in 2005.
That car successfully navigated a 132-mile desert course entirely without human intervention. Its successor, a VW Passat estate called Junior, must navigate itself across a complex urban environment.
Thrun reckons that this is a much more complex challenge, as rather than just sensing its environment, as Stanley did, Junior must understand it.
The new challenge will include intersections, with differing rights of way, and moving objects such as other vehicles.
Junior is equipped with the latest GPS technology, plus video cameras and laser range finders to help it in its mission; technology that's well on the way to being used in today's vehicles.
"Today, we are in a state where a car can drive 100 miles, before human assistance is necessary," said Thrun. "By 2010 we expect this to go to about 1000 miles, and by 2020 to a million miles before any kind of incident would occur."
That's a lot better than the expectations for any human driver. Junior starts its urban challenge on 3 November 2007.