Audi pledges driverless cars by 2016

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Driverless car technology is coming on apace. Google is set to trial a handful of its high-end, push-to-go vehicles in Milton Keynes in the UK and elsewhere in the US next year, BMW is teaming up with Chinese search giant Baidu and many other manufacturersv have announced stop-gap technologies like autonomous emergency braking and passenger avoidance technology. Audi though, has just pulled out an ace from its sleeve, announcing that by 2016, it expects to have driverless cars on the world’s roads.

Audi has previously shown off a vehicle that can compete with real drivers in terms of speed around some of the world’s more challenging tracks, but the question is, will it be safe on the roads and can it even drive many of them? According to Audi, the answer is emphatically yes.

Driverless cars “will happen, latest 2016,” chairman Rupert Stadler told T3. “For the piloted driving, Audi is in the lead, and others will follow in one year or two years.

“The importance is that Audi is perceived as a progressive brand, that we really try to engage different stakeholders. And if others will benefit that’s fine, that’s okay. Where’s the problem?”

Audi’s most impressive driverless vehicle so far has been the RS 7 concept vehicle, a coupe which was shown last month to make its way around the German Hockenheimring track at very competitive speeds. The question remains however, whether that was some pre-written protocol by Audi engineers, or whether it was judging every aspect of the track as it took it.

Of course real roads are very different from the track and it will take a lot of developmental work to make it viable on all of the world’s roads, but clearly Audi has put a lot of time into the development of this technology.

Termed, “Piloted driving,” rather than some of the more commonly used phrases like driverless, or automated, Audi’s system is designed to “relieve the strain of driving,” as much as it is able to set record times on test tracks. However unlike Google, which has made a push to remove the driver from the equation entirely, Audi is looking more to remove the dull aspects of driving. In reality, it expects people to have automated technology in cars that look very similar to the ones of today, but allows them to switch on the piloted system if needed.

This would allow ‘drivers’ to still take their car for a spin when they feel like it, but when they hit traffic or are travelling on a long journey down the motorway, they can switch to the piloted mode and relax.

Still, I’d love to see Audi’s technology face off against Google, BMW/Baidu, Volvo and all the other automakers working on this sort of technology. I smell a future Top Gear episode idea.

 

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.