Nevada has granted Audi a license to operate autonomous cars in the state, according to news reports. Last year, Nevada gave licenses to Google and Continental (a German auto supplier) to test self-driving cars on roads, as Kurt Ernst writes in an article for HighGearMedia.com appearing in The Washington Post. Ernst writes about Audi’s license: “[W]e say that’s a major milestone towards a future filled with self-driving cars.”
Audi is regarded as a leader in the development of autonomous car technology. Its parent, Volkswagen Group, worked with Stanford University to develop a fully autonomous Audi TTS, which climbed the 156-turn 12.4 mile road to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado in 2010, in 27 minutes, Ernst writes.
Although “autonomous” is the commonly used term for self-driving cars, Ernst says that Audi prefers the word “piloted,” as piloted driving — in which a driver has the ability to override a car’s self-driving systems — will become a reality sooner than “truly autonomous” cars.
Receiving the coveted red ‘Autonomous Vehicle’ license plate from the state of Nevada is no minor achievement. Companies requesting a license must submit a lengthy application package and provide documentation that the vehicle has already been tested for a minimum of 10,000 miles.
The application requires a description of all technology used, submission of a safety plan and copies of training documentation for drivers licensed under the program. Autonomous vehicle capabilities must also be demonstrated to a licensing board before approval is granted.
In his Highway 1 column for the Los Angeles Times, Jerry Hirsch notes that California’s autonomous driving law just went into effect at the beginning of this year, in which the state allows the operation of an autonomous vehicle if a licensed driver is at the wheel and able to assume full manual control at any point.
Hirsch quotes Audi as saying it “envisions motorists enjoying the convenience of allowing the car to handle mundane stop-and-go driving conditions, for example, while still being able to take control of the car when needed.”
Google has about a dozen self-driving vehicles in operation, which have driven a combined 300,000 miles in a range of traffic conditions without any accidents, Hirsch writes. Google uses a conventional car, often a Toyota Prius, loaded with sensors and computers to create a digital awareness of its surroundings to guide the driving, he says. Hirsch reports that Toyota’s Lexus division was planning to discuss a self-driving project in more detail at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas before the end of the week.
Already, automakers are pouring millions of dollars into systems that hand more control of a vehicle to a complex network of sensors and computers. Features such as collision avoidance systems that sense a potential crash and trigger the brakes or an alert that tells drivers they are wandering into adjacent lanes are making their way into more cars every year.
Such systems could reduce accidents due to distracted or impaired drivers.
You can see a video of the Audi in the Pikes Peak climb here.