The future is here – and I’ve just come back from riding in it.
The future looks like a regular Audi A6 Avant. But if you’re stuck in slow moving traffic on a freeway, just press a button on the steering wheel, and this Audi will take over all the driving chores – steering, braking, accelerating – at speeds of up to almost 40 mph, leaving you free to sit back and check emails, make phone calls, or even watch a movie on the sat-nav screen. And the really clever bit? Apart from a forward-facing LIDAR (a device that uses a laser to sense other objects) it’s all done using technologies already available in many well-equipped Audis.
In simple terms the Audi R&D boffins have used software to stitch together existing driver aid systems like adaptive cruise control, active lane assist, blind spot monitoring, parking distance sensors, and cameras that monitor both roadside signs and driver behavior, to create a vehicle that is pretty much capable of driving itself. In conjunction with the LIDAR system, one of the key enablers for the self-driving Audi is the new electromechanical steering system, which debuted on the A7 and has just been fitted to the A6. This allows for precise computer control of the steering.
The result is a car that’s well on its way to being a fully-fledged autonomous vehicle; a vehicle that means Audi is only the second company in the world after Google to have been granted an autonomous vehicle license plate by the state of Nevada. But that doesn’t mean Audi’s getting ready to get rid of the driver: “We are not getting into competition with the railroad industry,” jokes new Audi development chief Wolfgang Durheimer. Audi calls the system Piloted Driving, and has set it up so the driver is still very much in charge.