It’s the biggest development to hit the world of auto tech in recent history: self-driving cars are becoming a reality. Ever since the retrofuturistic imaginings of 1950s and 1960s science fiction, we’ve been able to imagine a world where cars can drive themselves, freeing humans completely from the need to pilot our own vehicles. As recently as ten years ago, the idea of a self-driving car seemed far-fetched. But as cutting-edge innovators like Tesla and Google have devoted real money, substantial resources, and some of the world’s brightest engineering minds toward making it a reality, the age of the self-driving car is already immanent.
Self-driving cars aren’t just a convenience. Driver safety is an immense motivating factor in today’s research into autonomous driving systems. Testing has already demonstrated that automated cars could decrease the rate of collisions by eliminating human factors like distracted driving, fatigue, and variable response times. It’s also poised to reduce labor costs substantially, potentially eliminating entire sectors of the job market. Commercial driving could disappear as an occupation, and everything from the auto insurance industry to the need for traffic policing will change forever.
Self-driving cars are here to stay. Always at the forefront of new technology, Audi is already planning and developing their own implementations of piloted driving.
In light of recent developments in self-driving capabilities, Audi has already devoted time, resources, and engineering manpower to develop its own approach to piloted driving. In fact, they were one of the first well-known brands to explore the possibility of driverless cars. For over 15 years, they’ve been testing experimental vehicles. As far back as 2005, Audi partnered with Stanford University to win the year’s DARPA challenge for automated vehicles. Just ten years later, they were the very first manufacturer to allow non-engineers, including journalists, in the driver’s seat of self-driving cars with Audi’s “Highway Pilot” technology. The volunteers travelled a full 566 miles from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas.
Audi’s philosophy toward piloted driving takes a gradual, incremental approach. This technology will bring immense economic, social, and lifestyle changes with it, and for something so advanced and paradigm changing, Audi embraces a step-by-step implementation plan that gradually introduces these systems to the public. Rigorous safety testing is imperative before self-driving cars can truly become the new standard for consumer and commercial vehicles.
The process has begun with the introduction of new, technologically sophisticated systems that improve the safety and convenience of the driving experience. Cameras and sensors are present on all recent Audi models, with advanced capabilities like parking assistance, lane change assistance, and collision warnings. As these safety technologies gradually enter the mainstream, Audi has been at the forefront of early adoption.
In 2018, just under a year and a half from today, Audi plans to introduce the world’s very first hands-free driving system. Earlier this year, the debut of the next-generation Audi A8 showcased mature piloted driving technology. The car is capable of parking itself, even without the driver present. It sounds futuristic, but this technology is maturing rapidly, and will soon take the market by storm.
Separate control units throughout the car work together to form the piloted driving system. The Central Driver Assistance System acts as a virtual “driver,” using information from the car’s many cameras, laser scanners, and sensors to form a real-time model of the car’s immediate surroundings. This model, in turn, guides the car’s Piloted Driving system, enabling the car to move itself and respond dynamically to its environment.
After over a decade of consistent innovation in autonomous vehicle technology, Audi is poised to become one of the first consumer brands to introduce true self-driving cars to the market. The shift to automation is expected to occur within the next five to ten years, and as this technology brings massive changes to the world of automotives, Audi continue to lead the way to the next new technological frontier.