Of all the ways of getting to CES this year, taking a self-driving car is by far the most on-theme. At least, this seems to be the reasoning behind Audi’s decision to let an A7 Sportback drive itself across more than 550 miles of highway from San Francisco to Las Vegas for this year’s show. The stunt is designed to show off the German manufacturer’s new "Piloted Driving" tech — a sort of intermediary step between cruise control and fully autonomous driving that can handle highways without human intervention but isn’t ready for navigating city streets. And, yes, there’ll be a human behind the wheel for the whole two-day trip.
If drivers don't take control near cities, the car will park itself in the emergency lane
The technology in the prototype A7 builds upon Audi's previous systems, using a combination of five radars, a laser scanner (aka LIDAR), and a handful of 3D cameras dotted around the vehicle. The car can drive at speeds of up to 70mph on highways, and Audi says it will even initiate lane changes and "passing maneuvers" completely independently.
When the A7 approaches a city however, an alarm will sound and the dashboard will start flashing, prompting the driver to take manual control. Audi says that if this doesn’t happen "the system activates the hazard lights and brings the car to a full stop" — usually in the emergency lane. Although company isn’t saying when this "production ready" tech will become commercially available, semi-autonomous systems like this could provide a perfect introduction to fully fledged self-driving cars. That is, as long as we don't all find ourselves waking up from a quick nap on the road, lights blinking, in the emergency lane.
The dashboard in Audi's experimental A7 Sportback.