Audi’s Self-Driving A7 Prototype Offers Advanced Capabilities Jan29

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Audi’s Self-Driving A7 Prototype Offers Advanced Capabilities

Image via Flickr by Ô tô Bình Dương

Image via Flickr by Ô tô Bình Dương

The annual Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas each January is the place where cell phone manufacturers, chip makers, and car companies display their newest innovations to an eager public. German auto company Audi has maintained a presence there for several years, showcasing nifty gadgets like the in-car tablet computer and fully digital gauge cluster, and its Piloted Driving technology.

At this year’s show, however, Audi kicked it up a notch with its 2015 A7 prototype, demonstrating autonomous driving capability years ahead of its competitors.

Wowing press and visitors alike, the A7 piloted its way from Silicon Valley to the Vegas event, a 550-mile journey across the desert, reaching maximum speeds of 70 mph, a feat never seen before. To further drive excitement, Audi gave reporters the opportunity to come along for the ride, offering 100-mile trips, so the journalists could experience the high-speed driving technology first-hand. With this new A7 prototype, Audi appears to have conquered one of the major hurdles in its Piloted Driving program: speed. Last year’s A6 prototype had a maximum operating speed of just 45 mph, making it unsuitable for the open road.

How Audi’s Piloted Driving Works

The A7 Piloted Driving prototype, which Audi calls “Jack,” comes with an amazing array of electronic devices, including 20 mid-range and long-range sensors, in grill laser scanner, side-facing radar sensors mounted front and rear, side-mounted blind spot sensors, front-mounted 3D video camera (plus four other strategically placed cameras), and real-time GPS mapping, shared with the adaptive cruise control. These devices and technologies work together to give the A7’s computer brain a 360-degree view of the vehicle and everything around it.

Of course, there are limits to existing Piloted Driving technology. The A7 is only safe for highway driving at the moment. Urban driving factors such as stop lights and stop signs are still beyond the car’s capabilities. When the car decides it is no longer safe to use Piloted Driving, it signals the driver by flashing a series of lights at the base of the car’s windshield, sounding an audio alert, and displaying a dashboard warning message. If the driver doesn’t respond, the car pulls itself over and comes to a stop.

The Future of Autonomous Driving

Nearly all auto manufacturers currently sell vehicles with some elements of autonomous technology such as adaptive cruise control or lane change monitoring. Tesla predicts it will have a 90 percent autonomous vehicle in 2015. States such as California and Michigan are embracing the technology and passed legislation allowing testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads and highways. Audi, Tesla, and Mercedes-Benz are a few manufacturers that are already testing these vehicles in California.

According to most experts, however, fully autonomous driving is years away. Audi is not planning to release the A7 prototype displayed at this year’s Consumer Electronic Show until “the next decade,” according to company executives. Which is probably a good thing, since the technology isn’t legal for general consumption yet in most states.