Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 25, 2013

Audi’s Vision of a Driver-less Future

This Audi is being driven one.

This Audi is being driven by…no one.

Imagine this: You drive to the mall. You get out of your car, and tell it to go find a parking place.

It does.

When you’re done shopping, you summon the car to come pick you up. It does, and you get in and drive home.

Science fiction?

“No, we actually did this,” Scott Keogh, president of Audi in North America, said in an interview at recent the Frankfurt Motor Show. “We did this at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January. We made the car go find a spot in a parking structure, not just in the lot. We can do this.”

To automobile manufacturers such as Audi and Mercedes-Benz these kinds of self-driving tricks are among the treats in store for drivers in the near term, not the long term.

“That was a while back now,” Mr. Keogh said. “We’ve gone well beyond that since then. We’re 65-70 percent there already” when it comes to producing cars capable of driving themselves.

Self-driving cars, autonomous driving controls and even driver-less motoring were hot topics at the 65th International Motor Show. At least they were hot topics among German luxury automakers such as BMW, Mercedes and Audi; American and Asian automakers – so far – seem to be mere eavesdroppers in the conversation.

There was even a little trash-talking among the Germans at press events, with Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche boasting that Mercedes already has the technology needed for full autonomous driving “without a bunch of antennas on the roof of the car.”

Audi chief Rupert Stadler shot back, at a roundtable discussion with reporters, “We had all the stuff Mercedes is talking about now, years ago.” He said Mercedes had just followed Audi’s lead and copied much of the same technology.

Either way, the ability of the industry to offer such advances to customers – whether they truly want the steering wheels literally taken out of their hands – depends more on the willingness of regulatory agencies to allow it.

“It will happen incrementally,” Mr. Keogh said. “Incremental improvements.”

He said customers would probably accept such aids, which will be extra-cost options, in stages, rather than all at once. “From none, to 100 percent overnight, no,” he said. “We have to determine what systems the customer is willing to pay for. We have some systems such as adaptive cruise control, braking assists and lane keeping technology that have already come into the market, and they are quite popular.”

Jerry Garrett

October 24, 2013

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