Self-driving vehicles are poised to be a major theme of the 2015 International CES in Las Vegas. And Audi, thankfully, is stealing the early headlines.
Audi’s self-driving A7, named Jack, safely completed a two-day, 550-mile trip from the San Francisco Bay Area to Las Vegas in time for the kickoff of the world’s largest consumer electronic event.
This stunt was quite a gamble for Audi. At CES 2014, Jack failed while driving along an open stretch of freeway, requiring a human driver take the wheel. Would another failure have been a nail in the coffin for the company’s autonomous vehicle hopes? Maybe.
Audi claimed its “Piloted Driving” had been improved during the past year and is ready for production. Here’s how it works, according to CNET:
“This A7 comes with Audi’s standard long-range forward radar, currently used for adaptive cruise control, but also features two rear-facing and two side-facing radar sensors. A laser scanner, or LIDAR, behind the grille serves as a redundant sensor to help the radar with solid-object detection. A 3D camera also looks forward, while four smaller cameras monitor the front and rear views from the corners of the car.
“The information from all these sensors and the car’s GPS location get processed by an onboard computer, which can control braking, acceleration and steering.”
However, when the A7 approaches a city, an alarm will prompt a human driver to take the wheel. If this doesn’t happen, Audi says “the system activates the hazard lights and brings the car to a full stop” in the breakdown lane.
A look at the route Jack took to Las Vegas. Photo Credit: Business Insider
So maybe “Piloted Driving” is closer to cruise control than actual autonomous driving, but nonetheless, there was a collective sigh of relief in Vegas when Jack safely arrived.
CNBC’s Phil LeBeau was one of five test drivers along for the ride to Vegas. Here’s part of what he had to say about the experience:
“What was it like?
“Very normal and easy to use. As the A7 changed lanes on Interstate 580 outside Palo Alto, I was not holding the steering wheel.
“Instinctively, I checked the side mirror and looked over my shoulder to make sure the coast was clear. It didn’t matter, the A7 had already scanned the lane to my left and made the decision it was clear to move over.”
Audi (@Audi) posted in-progress photos of Jack’s trip on Twitter using #drivingnotdriving. Here’s a snapshot below:
Welcome to Nevada, Jack. #DrivingNotDriving #CES2015 pic.twitter.com/OaaArZrr5O
— Audi (@Audi) January 5, 2015
And we're off. Jack hits the road for the final 285 miles to #CES in#Vegas. #DrivingNotDriving pic.twitter.com/xiL1vfUxI7
— Audi (@Audi) January 5, 2015
Arrived in the dark without problem! Autonomous to the Bakersfield city limits. Tomorrow, Vegas. #DrivingNotDriving pic.twitter.com/kqREZiyCLY
— kim reynolds (@MT_Reynolds) January 5, 2015
Driving highways of California hands free, foot free,..@Audi A7 piloted driving concept car. #drivingnotdriving pic.twitter.com/HvpSeRnyV9
— Phil LeBeau (@Lebeaucarnews) January 4, 2015