Mark Lowe.

Driverless cars are being tested on an eastern Iowa interstate, but in phase one of the test the humans inside the vehicles are doing the navigating.

“The Iowa 380 corridor was designated as one of the 10 autonomous vehicle proving grounds in the nation,” says Iowa Department of Transportation director Mark Lowe.

Lowe says the long-term project will help the state be “autonomous vehicle ready.”

“Many people will look at that as being: ‘How are we going to change the road infrastructure?'” Lowe says, “but the way we look at it is: ‘How are we going to be ready for the data that vehicles need to consume in order to be able to function in that environment?'”

Lowe says that means accurate maps and information about the roadway ahead, including hazards, weather conditions and traffic tie-ups. The project’s first phase began a couple of weeks ago. Four-hundred “pilots” are hearing that information broadcast from a hands-free mobile device inside a vehicle.

“That will basically help them see ahead of the horizon or beyond the horizon is the best way to put it,” Lowe says, “so that we’re warning them of the things they need to know to make good driving decisions before they actually get there and they can make better choices and safer choices and then, the next stage of that will be to start to feed that into the vehicle system itself.”

The test is being done on a stretch of Interstate 380 between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.  Driverless buses have been tested this year in Paris and Las Vegas. Driverless cars have been tested in congested cities like Boston and Phoenix.