In a conversation with four Audi senior staff members today EFTM learned the reality of autonomous driving and its future.
Here in Las Vegas for CES many car manufacturers have arrived with a strong focus on self-driving cars and many would start to believe that their next car will be driverless. Audi has a different view, and for good reasons.
The first issue for Audi is around the definition or “Autonomous Driving”. Audi sees this as getting into the car at home and getting out at work without any intervention from a human being. The confusion for consumers is when Tesla announces “Auto-pilot” driving for the Model S. Immediately consumers assume this to be equivalent to the description from Audi however in reality the Tesla is applying lane controls and adaptive cruise control.
Other manufacturers have rolled out concept cars which look like a lounge room on wheels. The reality there is that it is a concept and literally nothing more.
Audi has been coming to CES for years now and each year they do announce some breakthrough technology. This year for example is a new OLED dashboard with advanced controls and possibilities. Audi bring these breakthroughs to CES however you do see them in their cars within 12 months. Ricky Hudi, Head of Electrics at Audi, said “anyone can build a concept vehicle, roll it on stage and look future focused. We are practical and demonstrate technology you’ll see in a year”.
When asked about when we will see an autonomous vehicle (as Audi defines it) the room was perhaps surprised by the response by Thomas Muller, Head of Braking, Steering and Driver Assistance; “end of the next decade”.
Realising the surprise from the audience Thomas did move on to explain the difficulties with this.
An autonomous car on a road with cars driven by humans is a real problem, especially in America where you have a four stop crossing. In those situations people need to almost play chicken to see how goes or who turns first. In an autonomous car it would be left sitting at that intersection all day as humans drive ahead.
Most autonomous concepts at the moment are relying on lane markings on the road to ensure they stay within their piece of road, these lane markings certainly don’t exist everywhere – and they won’t do so immediately.
Thomas went on to say that when satellite navigation was first introduced it had to be done in regions as not all areas were mapped properly etc. Thomas believes this will be the same for autonomous cars. “We may see some cities using autonomous cars because the environment suits them and then when they leave that city, the driver would need to take over”.
Thomas advised there were other issues around the vehicle itself that needed to be looked at down the track, “do I want my driver seat to face backwards? I get motion sick doing that on a bus, why would I want that in my car?”.
It wasn’t all bad news though, Audi did go on to talk about how that journey to autonomous driving would occur. Audi wants to do this in a staggered approach through introducing components of the technology gradually. Scott Keogh, President of Audi America, advised that to just release a car with 100% new technology, features and methods of operation would just scare consumers and adoption would be low. The reason adaptive cruise control was successful is because consumers understand cruise control already, this was a logical step.
Scott confirmed the three focus areas for Audi – connectivity in the car, autonomy and electric.
Judging by those focus areas, we have a lot to be excited about from Audi, we just need to be patient for autonomous driving.
EFTM’s coverage of CES 2016 is made possible with support from Intel, Hisense, Sony, Samsung, LG and Alcatel One Touch