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

Call it a preview of the cross-country road trip of the future.

An autonomous car developed by Michigan-based auto supplier Delphi Automotive will soon make a 3,500-mile journey across the U.S. 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.

The car will mainly stick to highways.

Companies both inside and outside the auto industry are experimenting with similar technologies. They take more and more responsibilities away from the driver, 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 outfitted with laser sensors, radar and multiple cameras. It will be at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The official car will start its journey March 22 in San Francisco. It is expected to arrive in New York 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 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, just like it was supposed to, when two men fell into the street in front of it.

Delphi executives say driving the car for six to eight hours per day on various roadways and in different weather conditions will give them 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 proceed at a four-way stop. The car can time a merge onto the highway or maneuver around a bicyclist or a trash can. When it wants the driver to resume control, it uses a verbal warning and flashes lights 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, an engineer in the company's automated driving program, 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, like pedestrian detection or vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems, as a way to drastically cut the number of traffic deaths worldwide.

"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 (66)
  • JaysonSGrey
    4/02/2015 - 02:34 p.m.

    I love the idea of a driverless car, as it would prevent many car accidents, which prevents deaths. It would be very essential in the future and would actually be kind of essential now, as well. I can't wait for these cars to be out.

  • Colby N Turquoise
    4/02/2015 - 05:22 p.m.

    It is important to make drivers more comfortable because if a driver falls asleep then you will probably crash and be injured or die. But with automatically driving cars this issue will be solved.

  • Ukyo-Kut
    4/02/2015 - 06:48 p.m.

    the place where my dad works at Continental is like that they have a car in Nevada that has a licence plate I got this from a article- " Continental, a leading global automotive supplier, today received approval from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test autonomous vehicles on the state's public roads. Continental's testing license is for the company's highly automated vehicle, and represents the first license granted by the Nevada DMV to an automotive supplier". But the only difference is that continental can only go in one state (with a licence plate ) but Delfi is trying to got across the country.

  • JasonW-1
    4/02/2015 - 06:59 p.m.

    Delphi is attempting to make a self driving car. They are making a test run that will span the country. There will be a guy sitting behind the wheel to ensure it doesn't kill somebody. It's predicted that there won't be a true self driving car for at least 10 years. This is great. If perfected self-driving cars will be freaking amazing. Unfortunately they will most likely be extremely expensive for a very long time.

  • AJ_Slater
    4/02/2015 - 07:13 p.m.

    Some people take road trips across the US but this one is different. They will make this 3,500 miles journey without touching the wheel. They will do this with new self driving technology that can make a car successfully drive across country. I think that this new technology is very cool and I support it and hope it becomes used for the every day person in the near future.

  • GabiD-1
    4/02/2015 - 07:47 p.m.

    A self driving car will soon make a road trip across the US. There will be a man siting behind the wheel at all times not touching anything unless an emergency. Delphi says the vehicle is capable of making complex decisions. I think it is cool that they have made a self driving car, but there is also a lot of safety questions that come to mind when thinking about this new invention.

  • sophies-4
    4/02/2015 - 08:18 p.m.

    This article is about a car that is preparing to drive itself across the country. A person will be behind the wheel at all times, but will only drive if the car is having problems. It will drive mostly on highways. Experts say that a real driver-less vehicle is at least ten years away. The vehicle can make hard decisions like stopping at a four way stop. I am really excited for there to be a driver free car. I have always thought this would be cool idea and would be pretty safe.

  • DylanM-4
    4/02/2015 - 08:50 p.m.

    The company Delpha has made a prototype automated car that will travel across the country. After much preparation, and several short trips, it is ready to make the 3,500 mile journey. The trip will start in San Francisco, and end up in New York. I think this would be revolutionary for this business to finally break through with this technology

  • Matthew11101110
    4/02/2015 - 09:14 p.m.

    This technology is definitely cool, but I don't think this is such a good idea. I mean, a driver-less vehicle? That just sounds like a car crash waiting to happen. They could forget directions, or just malfunction and crash on the side of the road. I feel like we could be developing stuff that is much more helpful.

  • KellerB-2
    4/02/2015 - 09:21 p.m.

    I think this is a big leap in transportation. It can make a cleaner safer way to travel. This article is about people designing and creating a cleaner safer way to travel

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