Tampa highway closed for self-driving car demo in effort to win over riders and test the tech

There are new reports that the self-driving UBER SUV that struck and killed an Arizona woman jaywalking in front of it might have detected her, but didn't take any action because it failed to recognize that she was a human or a danger to the vehicle. It once again has sparked concerns about driverless cars and has many people questioning the idea of sharing the road with self-driving vehicles.

But now, just two months after the Tempe accident, a major test is underway at the Selmon Expressway in Tampa, Fla., that’s allowing everyday folks to go up to 50 miles per hour in an autonomous car.

The city of Tampa teamed up with engineers, robotics companies and Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to compile feedback from the passengers about their experiences in the autonomous car – and perhaps to ease their fears.

Hundreds of passengers got inside the Lincoln MKZ which was outfitted with Perrone Robotics driverless technology and made a six-mile loop on the expressway.

“I’m excited to take my first ride with autonomous vehicles. I think it’s the future and I think it’s very exciting,” said Russ Versaggi of Tampa.

A self-driving car is tested by German company Continental on the A2 motorway in Hanover, Germany April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer - RC1869A823F0

Just two months after the fatal accident in Arizona involving a self-driving vehicle, a major test is underway at the Selmon Expressway in Tampa, Fla., that’s allowing everyday folks to go up to 50 miles per hour in a driverless car.  (REUTERS)

After his ride, Versaggi told Fox News the comfort of the ride could be improved but he would get in one of the driverless cars regularly, if it had a pilot. “It was a little herky-jerky, a little abrupt at times, but never felt threatened, never feel endangered here at all,” he said.

The expressway will be closed all week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Emily Henke, who is eight months pregnant, said she trusted being a passenger in the self-driving car.

“It was a little bit jumpy...for things that maybe the average driver would just drive over it and not really be concerned about, he (the pilot) said it was erring on the side of caution which made a lot of sense,” Henke said.

Paul Schrader, 93, went for one of the rides with his grandson, Ethan. Schrader said he never envisioned being in a driverless car.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do is have something new — and in our country you have the chance to do that,” Schrader said.

One of the executives from Perrone Robotics even walked in front of the moving car as it came flying off the highway to demonstrate that the car will stop. Fortunately, his demonstrations went to plan.

self driving car 2 tampa

One of the executives from Perrone Robotics even walked in front of the moving car as it came flying off the highway to demonstrate that the car will stop. Fortunately, his demonstrations went to plan.

The particular technology in this test focuses on the exterior of the car by combining cameras, radar and laser imaging.

"The kinds of things we’re doing in cooperation with cities like Tampa is the first step in a very long road to building safety and to build a scale assurance,” said Frank Menchaca, chief product officer for the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Advocates for the driverless cars say the cars can drastically reduce traffic because the cars can communicate with each other, allowing them to drive millimeters apart versus standard cars that keep much more distance.

"There's billions of dollars being invested in this technology by every single auto manufacturer,” Brandes said, “because they see this is the future.”

Matt Finn is a Fox News correspondent based in the Chicago bureau. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFinnFNC