Car prepares to drive itself 3,500 miles across U.S. An autonomous car from Delphi drives on Treasure Island in preparation for a cross-country trip from San Francisco to New York City (Reuters / Thinkstock)
Car prepares to drive itself 3,500 miles across U.S.
Lexile

Are you ready to ride in a car with no driver? Experiments are being held now. One could even be called a preview of the cross-country road trip of the future.

Several manufacturers are developing the technology. That includes Delphi Automotive. It is based in Michigan. The company supplies parts to major automobile companies. Delphi's autonomous car will soon make a 3,500-mile journey. It plans to cross the country. A person will sit behind the wheel at all times. But that person won't touch it unless there's a situation the car can't handle.

Autonomous cars won't be without drivers. But they pretty much will make all driving decisions. If there is a problem, a driver can take over.

For the cross-country trip, the car will stick mainly to highways.

Several companies are experimenting with similar technologies. They take more and more responsibilities away from the driver. That includes right up to the act of actually driving the car. Most experts say a true driverless vehicle is at least 10 years away.

Delphi plans to show off one of several versions of the car. It is an Audi Q5 crossover. The experimental vehicle is outfitted with laser sensors. It has radar and multiple cameras. It will be at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The official car will start its cross-country journey March 22 in San Francisco. It will head to New York. The car's arrival is expected a little more than a week later.

The autonomous Audi has been warming up for its long journey. It has racked up lots of miles. The car has been tooling around Delphi's office. That's in California's Silicon Valley. The car also took a drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Delphi showed off the car at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. During a demonstration, the car braked by itself, when two men fell into the street in front of it.

On the trip across America, Delphi's car will be driven for six to eight hours per day. It will be taken on various roadways and operated during different weather conditions. This will give Delphi engineers valuable data. With it, they can help improve the technology. Engineers will also look for ways to make drivers and passengers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving.

"We're going to learn a lot out of this," said Jeff Owens. He is Delphi's chief technology officer.

Delphi officials believe the upcoming road trip is the longest automated drive ever attempted in North America. In 2010, the Italian company VisLab took a driverless van on an 8,000-mile, three-month journey. It went from Europe to Shanghai, China.

Delphi's autonomous vehicle looks like a regular car and not a science project. Anyone who looks at driverless cars developed by Google, Honda and others, immediately notices the circular, spinning sensor on top. It scans the surrounding area with lasers. The technology is known as lidar. Instead, Delphi tucked six lidar sensors into the car's front, rear and sides. And because lidar sensors don't work well in heavy snow or rain, the car has six radar sensors that can also detect road obstacles. The car also has cameras throughout. One even watches the driver.

Delphi says the vehicle is capable of making complex decisions. For instance, it can stop and then go at a four-way stop. The car can time a merge onto the highway. Or it can maneuver around a bicyclist or a trash can. When it wants the driver to resume control, it uses a verbal warning. And lights flash on the dashboard.

Owens won't say how much its autonomous prototypes cost. But for now, this technology is expensive. Lidar systems can cost upward of $70,000 apiece.

Doug Welk is an engineer in the company's automated driving program. He said the cross-country drive will help Delphi figure out the best combination of sensors. The information ultimately will help to lower costs. Delphi estimates it will cost around $5,000 to make a vehicle almost fully autonomous by 2019.

Owens said Delphi has been working on automated driving since 1999. That's when it first started putting radar sensors on cars. Now, 2 million cars are outfitted with those sensors. They are used for adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and other features.

Fully autonomous driving could come over the next decade or two, Owens said. Driverless cars are even further away. But in the meantime, Delphi sees autonomous features as a way to drastically cut the number of traffic deaths worldwide. The car's features include pedestrian detection or vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems,

"This technology can make a serious impact on those statistics," Owens said. "The car is not distracted. Even if the driver is."

Critical thinking challenge: Why is it important to make drivers and passengers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving?

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COMMENTS (13)
  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/02/2015 - 03:26 p.m.

    I think that it is cool that cars are now made to drive by itself but the driver will still be in the driver's seat but remain seated because the car that the driver is on is driving by itself which would let the driver to relax while the car is driving by itself to far away places in the U.S. Well if there're now some cars driving by itself now, I think that drivers need to drive because they will get lazy if they don't drive the car.

  • Tiffany0307-yyca
    4/02/2015 - 09:19 p.m.

    I think those car experiments are kind of unusual. I know that there are some few self-driving cars, but what's unusual is that there are some weird things inside the car. How can a car have like some kind of camera that is attached to itself and how it could watch the driver. It's kind of like spying at the driver. Also, I do not think that the car looks anything like an ordinary car. What kind of car scans some kind of environment with lasers? Also, how come lidar does not work in heavy snow or rain? And then since they can't work, the car has the radar sensors and then they detect road obstacles. That is not an ordinary car. But the experiments kind of crazy because it would take, of course more than a month, to go around the world. So I don't think that those experimnets are really cool.

  • KeaganB-1
    4/02/2015 - 09:38 p.m.

    Companies are beginning to develop cars that can travel on their own. Several man you back yours are developing this technology like Delphi automotive. Delphi automotive will be planning a 3500 mile cross-country trip with no driver. There will actually be a driver but he will not touch the steering wheel or any machinery unless something thing goes wrong.most experts say true driverless car will be developed within the next 10 years. I thought this article was very interesting and I hope my first car can be a car that will be without it a driver.

  • soniapat-Mag
    4/06/2015 - 11:20 a.m.

    A car is going to go 3,500 miles across the U.S. This car will really improve the future because then the "driver" can't get into many accidents wicth is good, the car can't get distracted

  • TroyR-Cla
    4/13/2015 - 12:12 p.m.

    I think this is very cool I wish I could have a car like that.But in only 8.But in the future I WANT A CAR LIKE THAT!!!

  • TroyR-Cla
    4/13/2015 - 12:13 p.m.

    I think this is very cool I wish I could have a car like that.But in only 8.But in the future I WANT A CAR LIKE THAT!!!

  • LiCausiM-Sua
    4/21/2015 - 09:36 p.m.

    It is important to make drivers comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving because it will get them to buy one. It is also important because then people will think its safe to drive that way. Also it is important because when people right now hear that that might get scared, but if they get comfortable to the thought then they won't be scared. It is also important because when people get comfortable then they will tell other people that it is good. These are my ideas of why it is important for people to get comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving.

  • NorrisJ-Sua
    4/21/2015 - 09:58 p.m.

    So the drive can e more safer on the road. Fewer car accidents.

  • CirilloP-Sua
    4/21/2015 - 11:02 p.m.

    It is important to make drivers and passengers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving. It is more important because they will not worry. And it will not make people worry so much so they can drive better. And also it is important because people will not wreck more. That is why it is important.

  • ManiegoC-Sua
    4/21/2015 - 11:50 p.m.

    It is important to make drivers and passengers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous driving because is because they are more relaxed. Why I think that is because when you drive by yourself you get to enjoy yourself driving. Another reason is that you don't have to worry about anything while your driving by yourself. Also a reason is that you don't get distracted when you are driving because when your with a passenger they talk to you and you get distracted easily. Last, I think that because when you drive by yourself you can get even more comfortable.

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