“Look ma’, no hands!”
Auto parts maker Delphi has announced a plan for a team of engineers to make a trip from the Golden Gate Bridge to midtown Manhattan in a car that automatically drives itself.
The car, an Audi SQ5, will be equipped with all manner of autonomous driving technology, including radar, high-end microprocessors, and software to let the car make human-like decisions like exiting and enter highway traffic, navigating city streets or parking.
The technology used in this trip has been developed by Delphi and has been advancing rapidly. Delphi doesn’t expect to build its own self-driving car but it does want to sell these features to automakers.
Some features are already being integrated into a number of high-end car models now available. But most of the tests of automated driving and self-driving cars have been conducted on test tracks or in short bursts on city streets. Delphi hopes that its cross country trip will allow it to gather far more data than those previous tests.
“It’s neat to think about going coast to coast, especially since we’re the first to do it,” said Jeff Owens, Delphi’s chief technology officer. “What we’re really interested in is the massive amount of miles and the data that goes along with that.”
The course will take the team of engineers from San Francisco down to Los Angeles and then along a southern route to New York. They expect to leave San Francisco on March 22 and arrive in New York about eight days later, just before the start of the New York auto show. The trip will be mostly on interstates and the teams will be in the car about eight hours a day.
In order to comply with state laws along the way, there will be a person sitting in the driver’s seat, ready to take over if necessary to avoid another car or a pedestrian. The human driver might also take over in order to make a course change, such as to get gas or food or go to the bathroom.
“When you’ve got the human elements, they’ll be wanting the food stops,” said Owens.
The car will have a second person in the car at all times as well to monitor the collection of data. Team members will switch out along the way.
There’s one way that the trip will be made longer by use of the automated driver rather than the human drivers, Owens said. “We have to comply with speed limits,” he said.