Burns told attendees of the University of Michigan Robotics Day that competition among automakers is driving the technology, but that political pushback remains a stumbling block.

“We’re going to have to have policies and laws to figure out whose liable when driving this car,” the recently inducted member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering said.

Burns notes that many of the safety features incorporated into autonomous cars, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance systems and lane-keeping assistance, are already on the road and will soon be commonplace. The upcoming 2014 Chevrolet Impala, for instance, will offer all of the above as optional features.