Audi autonomous car prototype starts 550-mile trip to CES

Audi A7 self-driving prototype heads to CES 2015
Audi loves audacious autonomous-car stunts.

It’s sent self-driving prototypes up Pikes Peak and around Germany’s Hockenheimring, and now it’s unleashed one on a road trip from Silicon Valley to CES in Las Vegas.

A robotized Audi A7 will make the trip of more than 550 miles, with some human help of course. Journalists will sit behind the wheel for 100-mile stints with an Audi official in the passenger’s seat.

The car left Stanford, California, yesterday and will traverse real-world roads and traffic conditions on its way to Vegas.

In addition to featuring endpoints tailor made for a PR-friendly tech demo, the trip also takes place in two states that have explicitly legalized the testing of autonomous cars on public roads, eliminating any potential problems with the law.

Nicknamed Jack, the “piloted” (Audi’s term) self-driving A7 can do a lot on its own, but still needs human control in certain situations.

However, the prototype can initiate lane changes and accelerate and brake autonomously. That means it can pass other vehicles on a highway without any intervention from the meat puppet in the driver’s seat.

It does this with an array of sensors, including mid- and long-range radar, a laser scanner in the grille, and multiple cameras. GPS data is used to orient the vehicle.

Audi says much of this technology is production ready. The A7’s adaptive cruise control is an evolved version of a feature that’s commonplace in many production cars, and its 3D camera will be integrated into safety systems on the 2016 Q7.

The autonomous system still can’t negotiate urban traffic and certain other situations, and that’s when the human driver is expected to take over.

If that becomes necessary, the car alerts its driver with flashing LEDs at the base of the windshield, and audio tone, and messages on the central information display. If the driver doesn’t respond, the system turns on the hazard lights and pulls the car over.

That all sounds pretty impressive, but it will probably be less so if the A7 prototype doesn’t make it all the way to CES. We’ll find out how it faired over the next couple of days.

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