Blacksburg tech company's driverless car drives to Detroit and back

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Imagine taking a drive from our area to Detroit, Michigan and back, with no driver behind the wheel.

Torc, an autonomous vehicle technology company, has been working on the technology for cars to drive themselves for ten years.

In a recent test, one of their cars made it to the Ford Avenue Plant in Detroit and back to Blacksburg, more than 1,000 miles.

The co-founder and CEO of Torc, Michael Fleming, said his engineers have developed solutions to localization, real-time navigation, mapping, and obstacle detecting and tracking.

He explained, "One way to look at it is what I see, what I think, and how I control the vehicle. We've basically taken that and put it into a software stack, or software, that does what you and I do driving from home and work every day."

Fleming said these cars will be safer than regular drivers when they hit the streets.

They also answer a demand for self driving cars, which Torc and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute said has been growing significantly in recent years.

"Your time and my time that we may spend on 81 in congestion, we can free that up to maybe read a book down the road, maybe check social media or an online status, maybe to rest, or maybe interact with your family," Fleming said.

The VTTI Center for Public Policy, Partnerships, and Outreach Director, Myra Blanco, added, "Also allowing people that are not able to currently and move around, provide that mobility in the future."

Fleming said in a decade or two, we could see autonomous cars partnered with ride share programs between friends and families.

Blanco was asked if that matches a realistic timeline for seeing these on the market.

She answered, "Fully autonomous vehicles, we still have some time to go before those are fully deployed and ready but we have a lot of research to make this a reality."

Fleming said being in Blacksburg is a big help because of Virginia's self driving car laws and having Virginia Tech in their back yard.

Most of the 80 engineers working here are Tech alum, including Fleming.

Much more is expected from Torc in the coming year as developers add more and more capabilities to these autonomous cars.