driverless on the las vegas strip
Sometimes tech moments really blow your mind’s bloody doors off. Sitting in the passenger seat of Audi’s driverless A7, being given a police escort along the Las Vegas strip, certainly did. Our “pilot” took his hands off the wheel and kept them off. Destination: the future.
Forget everything you’ve seen of Google’s autonomous car with its ugly, roof-mounted radar system. Audi has taken 16 sensors, able to keep track of surroundings, and hidden them in the prototype A7, maintaining its trademark slick look. There are 12 ultrasound sensors, two radar – the production model will drop that to one – a camera, and a laser scanner. It not only looks better than Google’s prototype, it’s also 300 times cheaper to produce.
Inside, the cockpit looks pretty much like any other Audi, but two cameras focus on you, using face recognition and motion sensing to spot if you’re dozing off – even if you’re wearing sunglasses, it’ll see your head droop. Should that happen a warning bleep is fired, giving you ten seconds to regain control. If you don’t, it’ll come to a controlled stop. We saw this in action on a busy highway and it’s damned impressive.
The most striking thing was how natural it felt to sit in a car with a driver who’s hands were nowhere near the wheel. It’s a leap of faith, but one that was surprisingly easy to make. In Audi’s vision of the auto-piloted future, drivers will still need to pay attention, with in-car alerts keeping them engaged. So, no, the machines won’t be in complete control… not yet, anyway.