At the start of this year, German automaker Audi proved its Piloted Drive autonomous vehicle technology was ready to tackle the real world by sending a prototype Audi A7 Piloted Drive Sedan from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in time for the start of the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
On Sunday, that 560-mile trip will fade into insignificance as global automotive parts supplier Delphi Automotive (NYSE:DLPH) attempts the longest autonomous drive ever recorded in North America by sending a specially-equipped Audi SQ5 SUV from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco all the way to New York City.
In total, the vehicle will travel some 3,500 miles, accompanied by six Delphi engineers to ensure that everything operates smoothly on the record-breaking trip.
The vehicle, which Delphi unveiled last November online and which made its international debut at CES 2015 in January, is fitted with four short-range radars, three vision-based cameras and six lidars, as well as a complex on-board computer system programmed with Delphi’s autonomous drive software.
Together, the hardware and software — along with vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2X) technology — makes it possible for the vehicle to tackle everything from a four-way stop to overtaking a cyclist on a city street, merging into traffic on a fast-moving freeway, safely handle start/stop traffic and of course, park itself.
The trip, says Delphi’s Chief Technology Officer Jeff Owens, will allow the firm’s engineers to gather the kind of data that just isn’t possible from any number of lab-based test scenarios, enabling them to truly prove the readiness of its autonomous drive technology for the marketplace.
“Delphi had great success testing its car in California and on the streets of Las Vegas,” he said in an official statement announcing the trip. “Now it’s time to put our vehicle to the ultimate test by broadening the range of driving conditions. This drive will help us collect invaluable data in our quest to deliver the best automotive grade technologies on the market.”
As a tier-one supplier — a firm which develops and supplies products to mainstream automakers who then integrate that technology into their vehicles — Delphi is keen to use the trip to demonstrate to current and future customers that it has the technology needed to make autonomous vehicles commonplace. If successful, it will no-doubt be looking to bring the technology it’s developed to market as soon as possible.
But as we’ve said before, the true hurdle to autonomous vehicle technology becoming mainstream isn’t the technology itself: it’s convincing legislators around the world that autonomous vehicles are safe enough to be trusted on our roads. That could be a very long and drawn out process.
The coast-to-coast trip kicks off on Sunday, with Delphi tweeting the progress of its trip using the hashtag #DelphiDrive from its Twitter account.
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