Self-driving car embarks on cross-country journey

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Automotive systems manufacturer Delphi is putting self-driving technology to its toughest test yet, sending an autonomous car on a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to New York to gather key information about the performance of the vehicle’s sensors and software.

The company is calling the 3,500-mile voyage, which officially got underway on Sunday, “the longest automated drive ever attempted in North America” and is hoping that it will demonstrate that the technology is able to handle a vast array of different situations, including things such as traffic jams, cruising at highway speeds, inclement weather and even parking.

Broadening the range of driving conditions

Delphi is hoping that its 2015 Audi SQ5 will be able to make it to the Big Apple in time for next week’s New York Auto Show, and three engineers/drivers are on board in case they need to take control of the vehicle for any reason, according to PC Magazine. The road trip is designed to test the technology’s performance in real-world conditions, the company explained.

“Delphi had great success testing its car in California and on the streets of Las Vegas. Now it’s time to put our vehicle to the ultimate test by broadening the range of driving conditions,” chief technology officer, Jeff Owens, said in a statement. “This drive will help us collect invaluable data in our quest to deliver the best automotive grade technologies on the market.”

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The vehicle has been outfitted with a full suite of technology designed to make the cross-country trip possible, Delphi officials said, including: radar and driving assist systems, wireless vehicle communication technology, software that can make “human-like decisions” and systems that can assist the car with traffic jams, city and highway driving, lane changes and parking.

Taking every precaution

The company said that it’s taking measures to make sure that neither the car nor the on-board human handlers will be overtaxed. John Absmeier, director of Delphi’s global automated vehicle business development, told PC Magazine that the vehicle will not drive on its own at night and that the would-be drivers will rotate shifts behind the wheel to ensure that they are “rested and attentive” at all times.

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Absmeier added that while their technology is “capable of handling most weather conditions,” that testing would be halted “during heavy snow and heavy rain” for the safety of the drivers. In light rain and snow flurries, however, the road trip will continue as planned. The car will take a southerly route to try to avoid the harsher conditions of the north, however, Delphi said.

Currently, only four states (California, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida) and Washington DC have passed laws explicitly permitting the use of driverless vehicles, the company noted. The rest have no legislation either allowing or banning their use, but Absmeier noted that Delphi officials are “taking every precaution” and have already contacted states through which the car is set to travel.

For those who are interested, the self-driving Audi’s voyage can be followed (complete with pics and videos of the journey) online at the official Delphi Drive website or via Twitter.

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