THE ULTIMATE road trip for many motorists would be coast to coast across America in a Mustang with the hood down.
For the engineers at Audi, however, the dream drive is a 550-mile hop from the hi-tech hub of Silicon Valley, on the west coast of America, to the razzmatazz of Las Vegas – and the wheels of choice are attached to an Audi A7 Sportback that drives itself.
Today and tomorrow a grey Audi will slip through traffic, probably without raising an eyebrow, but this is no ordinary sleek German machine. It is out to prove that self-driving cars have a place on our roads.
As car companies jostle for position in the race to get a self-driving car into showrooms, Audi is embarking on a public relations drive to put itself ahead of the pack. After a high-speed lap of the Hockenheim racing circuit by a self-driving RS 7, the company has now given German and American journalists a chance to experience its “Piloted Driving” technology. They will sit behind the wheel in a semi-autonomous A7 3.0 TFSI quattro travelling from Silicon Valley to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The A7 – nicknamed “Jack” by Audi’s engineers – can pull away from a standstill, accelerate, steer, brake and stop itself at a speed of up to 70mph. Audi claims its systems are smart enough to allow the A7 to change lanes and overtake other cars.
It uses a host of mid- and long-range radar systems in combination with laser scanners, a 3D video camera and four smaller cameras to observe its surroundings. Some of the technology, such as the mid-range radar systems, features on the new Audi Q7.
The road trip for the self-driving A7 is a big step for the German company, which – like other car makers – is anxious not to be caught napping by Google. A production version of the internet giant’s first self-driving car has been declared road-legal and started testing on Californian roads this year.