driver­less on the las ve­gas strip

Australian T3 - - TECHMOBILES -

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.

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