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Panel at St. Paul robotics conference: self-driving cars a certainty, someday

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Self-driving cars may be just around the bend technologically speaking, but clearing some other societal hurdles may be a long road.

That was the general assessment of an expert panel at a St. Paul robotics conference Tuesday, according to a story in the Pioneer Press. The newspaper reports a project manager with Honeywell underscored the auto industry's ability to resist change by pointing to the decades it took for seat belts to gain acceptance. But there's a consensus that the technology needed to produce cars that drive themselves is not very many years away.

The panel spoke at the Robotics Alley Conference and Expo, which continues Wednesday at St. Paul's RiverCentre. The Pioneer Press reports promoters of the conference see a cluster of robotics companies and suppliers taking shape in the Midwest. Those include a sponsor of the event, ReconRobotics, whose robots are used by the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies.

As for those driverless cars, one of the biggest engines behind them is a company called Google, which has been experimenting with them for years and has posted a demonstration video.

They're not alone, though. In advance of the Tokyo Motor Show last weekend three Japanese automakers - Nissan, Toyota, and Honda - each took Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a spin in their self-driving models, the Register reports. But the British tech journal also notes the video shot in the Nissan shows Abe never let go of the door handle and didn't look entirely comfortable.

Time magazine reports surveys of American consumers show safety is their biggest reluctance about autonomous cars. But asked whether they would embrace a technology that could cut their insurance premiums by 80 percent, most were ready to hop on board, Time says.

According to the Pioneer Press, panel members at Robotics Alley said the obstacles that still need resolution on the road to self-driving cars include the traffic and liability laws, the expense of the cars, and how to keep drivers paying attention even when the car is driving.

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