Motoring Insight Magazine Online

The future is here (nearly): Audi's autonomous cars

Published: 7 October 2014

If you wanted an Audi Driving experience you'd probably head down to somewhere like Silverstone and enquire about being driven around the circuit at high speeds by a racing expert. Imagine that same experience in five years’ time without the driver. No not with you driving but with the Audi driving you. That's just one of endless scenarios that could arise from Audi''s ground-breaking research into autonomous cars. 

Their recent success in obtaining the first permit to test automated vehicles on California's traffic packed roads shows early indications that it will be Audi and not Google who cross the finish line first in delivering the world's first driverless cars to the mass-market. President of Audi of America Scott Keogh stated: “Obtaining the first permit issued by the State of California shows that we intend to remain the leader in this vital technology frontier.”

Audi aren’t so keen on labelling the vehicles as ‘autonomous’, ‘driverless’ or ‘self-driving’. They look at the cars more in the way that we see aeroplanes and autopilot. While the aeroplane is more than capable of flying itself, there always has to be a pilot on hand to take back control whenever necessary. The new controls will be more like an enhanced intelligence cruise-control system allowing the car to drive itself on long stretches of motorway by automatically braking for traffic, slowing down to let other cars in, changing lanes and accelerating on open roads. 

This technology will not only allow drivers to have a rest on long journeys without stopping, but it should drastically improve safety on motorways worldwide. The computer and sensors onboard analyse thousands of details from the car’s surroundings, including the speeds, positions and movements of nearby vehicles. The car’s ability to accurately analyse the movement of other vehicles means that it can even work in lanes where markings are absent or incorrect. Removing human error from motorway travel will not only reduce the chance of accidents, but will also increase and stabilise the flow of traffic on our busiest roads. 

Away from high-speed traffic, the new technology is going to be a complete revolution for parking and driving through tight spots. Sensor technology on modern cars has already greatly reduced the chances of damaging your vehicle or private property as you park or reverse out of tight spots. But the new self-parking cars will be looking to eliminate any chance of damage to your or anyone else’s paintwork. The car in this video not only parks itself neatly in its designated space (double parking will be a thing of the past) but it also acts as your own private parking valet. Using an app on her mobile phone the owner of the car is able to jump out directly in front of a building’s entrance and then command the car to go off and park itself. With another few commands entered into the phone she is able to summon the car back to the front door at a convenient time. 

In the UK the government has announced that autonomous cars will be allowed on public roads in January 2016 with ministers tasked with frantically re-evaluating and amending the current UK road regulations before that time. Concerns about insurance and legal liabilities with these vehicles are sure to be the major stumbling block. But with Audi already taking reservations on its new autonomous Cruise RP-1, and many experts stating that driverless vehicles could be available to a mass market as early as 2020, it seems the future could be here sooner than we thought. 

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