Self-driving car tech used to make driving easier

January 11, 2013 9:02:57 PM PST
The self-driving car may still be years away, but its development is already yielding some short-term advances to make driving safer and easier. Some of that research is underway in Silicon Valley.

We can all relate to the experience of returning to a parking lot and finding our car is boxed in, making it difficult and even impossible to open the door. But technology can solve this dilemma. Ultrasonic sensors built into the bumpers, along with driver assistance technology, can move the car out of the tight spot.

While there is a long-range vision to create autonomous or self-driving cars, Audi is working on incremental technology.

"We assist him and in very predictable situations we also can allow that he is a little bit relaxed in what's happening with the car, but he will still remain behind the steering wheel and be in charge of what's happening with the car," Audi Research & Development Director Wolfgang Durheimer said.

Audi is part of the Volkswagen Group, which runs this electronics research lab in Silicon Valley. More than 100 engineers, designers and psychologists are working on prototypes and using a simulator to get feedback from consumers.

While cars someday may be able to drive themselves, engineers believe drivers need to ease into it and to know when to intervene.

"If you suddenly introduce an autonomous technology, you don't quite know if the person knows how to take over immediately," senior engineer Annie Lien said. "So we want to make sure there are steps that people have the experience and practice of being able to take over when they need to, and then eventually it'll be natural when they need to take over when the car is a little more autonomous than now."

Research such as this is often done in secret. However, Audi by letting us see some of what it's working on, not only excites the public about the future of the automotive industry, but also may give engineers in the Valley some impetus to rethink about their careers and perhaps working on the future of the automobile.


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