Driverless Audi Takes Itself On A 550 Mile Road Trip
Could this be the future of driving? Your next road trip may be a lot easier.
Audi is making two world premieres at this week’s 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of which is an autonomous A7 concept that drove to the event itself, after starting off Saturday in San Francisco. The total distance traveled was more than 550 miles, with a number of engineers and journalists given time behind the wheel.
Not only is the stunt being used to gather data for an eventual production autonomous car from Audi, it’s also a means of demonstrating the viability of a self-driving car in existing traffic and road conditions. The trek took the A7 concept across roads in California and Nevada, both of which have given a number of automakers permission to test autonomous cars on public roads.
The A7 concept is able to drive itself between speeds of 0 and 70 mph, including making lane changes and passing maneuvers. Before making a lane change, the vehicle adapts its speed to surrounding vehicles. If the speed and distance calculation is deemed safe, the vehicle initiates the lane change with precision and in a timely manner.
To be able to drive itself, the A7 concept relies on a combination of various sensors, many of which are close to production ready. These include long-range radar sensors already in use in Audi’s cruise control and side-assist driving aids, as well as two mid-range radar sensors that complete a 360 degree view. Laser scanners are mounted within the grille and the rear bumper; these deliver information to provide detailed recognition of various objects, static or moving, on the road.
One challenge for the A7’s Piloted Driving road trip will be the condition of lane lines, which the car will monitor to help guide its path. If lane lines disappear due to road construction or weathering, the car will need to rely on its GPS and relative distance from other traffic around.
The urban environment limitation also suggests that Audi has not refined the system enough for the many obstacles and threats of city driving. However, the system Audi described, if it works as intended, could be a feature available on production cars within a very few years, helping drivers make long freeway trips.