This spring, a high-tech, self-driving car traveled across the country, carrying its passengers safely from coast to coast with very little intervention from the otherwise unoccupied "driver." The car, designed by Delphi, set off from the Golden Gate Bridge on March 22, and drove 3,500 miles to New York.
The trip, the longest autonomous drive cross-country in a car, was accomplished with 99 percent of the drive in fully automated mode over nine days, the company said. Two teams of three Delphi engineers were in the vehicle (one behind the wheel, two in the backseat analyzing sensor data), each team riding along for half the drive.
The coast-to-coast trip allowed Delphi engineers to capture important technical data and road test new safety technology. According to the company, the team collected nearly three terabytes of data.
"We've tested the car in crazy Las Vegas traffic and on highways in California, so we decided to take an extended trip to see all of the different scenarios you can run into," says Delphi CTO Jeff Owens. "We wanted to take that information and use it to make the sensors better and more cost effective, and to guide forward development."
The nine-day trip crossed 15 states and the District of Columbia. Along the way, the vehicle encountered complex driving situations such as traffic circles, construction zones, bridges, tunnels, aggressive drivers and a variety of weather conditions.
Delphi used an Audi SQ5 modified with new radar, laser scanner, and camera technology. Another version of the car (an Audi A7) was previously demoed in Las Vegas at CES 2015 and driven roughly 560 miles.
While a few states have passed legislation to regulate the use of self-driving vehicles, Owens says that the company didn't have to make any special accommodations to operate the vehicle from state to state, other than having a driver behind the wheel at all times.
"We also had to follow the speed limit exactly," Owens says. "You have to program the vehicle at the speed limit, because it would certainly be hard to explain why you programmed it to go above the speed limit. But that meant we got passed by everybody. We weren't just the first to go coast-to-coast in an automated vehicle, we were probably also the first car to do it going the speed limit."