With a variety of manufacturers already testing the technology on public roads, it’s becoming a matter of when, not if, autonomous vehicles will land in your local showroom.
Add Audi to the list of makers committing to introduce a self-driving vehicle in the near future. The luxury arm of Volkswagen AG says it will offer the technology on its next-generation A8. And it showed just what autonomous vehicles are capable of during a demonstration this week at California’s Sonoma Raceway.
“In Sonoma, we took the Audi RS7 piloted driving concept to its physical limits lap after lap, and it handled the task with uniform precision,” said Thomas Müller, who oversees the development of driver assistance systems for the German luxury brand.
Audi has been working on autonomous technology for some time and even showed its potential, a few years back, by making a run up Pike’s Peak. This time, it showed off its latest version, a self-driving RS7 concept nicknamed “Robby.” While it didn’t quite match the lap record – set, it turns out in an R8 Le Mans Prototype – it did manage to run the 2.5-mile circuit in a respectable 2:01.01.
The clear goal of the project was to demonstrate the capabilities of autonomous technology under even the most demanding conditions, namely a high-speed racetrack.
That said, Audi engineers will still have their hands full programming their technology to manage rush hour traffic and urban intersections. A fully autonomous vehicle will have to be able to negotiate every possible situation that a human driver might encounter without help.
How soon that might be is uncertain, though Google has clocked tens of thousands of miles in its autonomous prototypes. It apparently has had about a dozen crashes, but claims that all were the result of error by other drivers.
(Drivers cool to the idea of autonomous vehicles. For more, Click Here.)
Google has suggested its autonomous system could be ready for prime time around the end of the decade, and Nissan has promised to put its first fully autonomous vehicle into production in 2020. The Japanese maker also has said it will roll out more limited autonomous systems before then, starting in 2016. Cadillac, meanwhile, will launch its hand-free highway system, dubbed SuperDrive, next year, and the all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class to debut at the Detroit Auto Show next January will introduce similar technology.
(Click Here for more about Ford’s plans for autonomous vehicles.)
Exactly what sort of autonomous vehicle the next-gen Audi A8 will be hasn’t yet been revealed, nor has the maker announced timing. Given the standard lifecycle for a luxury car, however, an all-new version likely won’t be ready for launch until late in the decade. And it isn’t certain if it will go autonomous immediately or will have that technology added later on in its own lifecycle.
(Mercedes lurches toward autonomy with E-Class. Click Here for the story.)
Audi has given a few hints of what’s to come, however. Another prototype, this one named “Jack,” was used to ferry journalists from Silicon Valley to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January. It also was shown off in Shanghai in May at CES Asia. And it was rolled out for a media run on the Autobahn this year, hitting speeds of just over 80 mph.