Audi lets lawmakers experience self-driving car

Thursday morning a sleek A7 “driverless” prototype nicknamed Jack was driving towards the capital.

“Not quite ‘The Jetsons,’ yet, but almost like KITT,” said Del. Ronald A. Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, referring to the talking, self-operating Pontiac Trans Am driven by David Hasselhoff in the 1980s TV show “Knight Rider.” “It needs more cup holders, though.”
Several bills dealing with autonomous vehicles were introduced this session, including legislation clarifying definitions and dealing with restrictions on on-board video displays.

“Ninety-three percent of all traffic accidents involve human error,” said Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr., R-Virginia Beach, who has introduced several pieces of legislation related to autonomous vehicles.  “I’d like to see Virginia be the place where research and development occurs for this industry,” Davis said. “It’s very easy to see how this technology can prevent the majority of automobile accidents.” Together with other technologies, such as self-parking and remote start, autonomous vehicles will mean big changes like being able to pack more cars into parking structures because spaces won’t have to leave room for drivers and passengers to get in and out.
Audi’s driver engaged the A7’s Freeway Pilot function with a push of his thumbs and sat back as the car steered itself around gentle curves, changed lanes on its own, courteously engaging the turn signal as it did so, and issued a warning as the airport exit loomed. More than 20 sensors feeding information to the car’s computer help it process objects and empty space.
“We’ve been working on this for at least a decade now,” said Raghu, who was on the Audi team that worked with Stanford University to win the 2005 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency prize for the first autonomous car to drive 150 miles in 10 hours. “We are committed to bringing this technology to our customers in the U.S. … We work very hard to try to make this a reality all around the country. There is a legislative and regulatory work that needs to happen as well, this is very important in making autonomous cars on the road a reality.

The first version of the technology available will be Traffic Jam Pilot, which will offer autonomous operation at speeds up to 35 mph and should be ready in the next three years, said company spokesman Brad Stertz. Audi currently offers Traffic Jam Assist, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel for about 15 seconds at a time at low speeds. Freeway Pilot should be ready in five or six years, Stertz said.

“We are taking great care to embrace innovations that can boost safety and improve efficiency on our roadways,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “Our interpretation that the self-driving computer system of a car could, in fact, be a driver is significant. But the burden remains on self-driving car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.”