Audi is embarking on a 550-mile trek from San Francisco to Las Vegas to prove that its "piloted driving" system is ready to tackle the soul-sucking journey through Central California and Nevada.
Anyone that's ever had to endure the expanse of Interstate 5 knows that it's one of the most monotonous drives on the West Coast. Audi is trying to make that a little less painful with one of its first long distance tests of its piloted driving system fitted to an A7.
Journalists (not us, by the way) are leaving VW/Audi's Electronics Research Lab in Stanford and heading south in an A7 fitted with a combination of production sensors and systems, along with some prototype gear that allows it to travel between 0 and 70 MPH, change lanes, and generally make tedious freeway runs more bearable.
The A7 – called Jack, following VW/Audi's tradition of naming its autonomous cars – is fitted with adaptive cruise control and Audi side assist to keep tabs on surrounding cars and keep its distance. That's combined with a pair of mid-range radar sensors to the left and right to provide a 360-degree view around the vehicle, along with front- and rear-mounted laser scanners, a 3D video camera (the same on the new Q7), and four tiny cameras mounted front and rear to get a more detailed picture.
But the engineers and journalists onboard still have work to do. The piloted driving system is only optimized for freeways, so while it can change lanes and keep up with traffic, as soon as it gets inside a city, the drivers get a visual and auditory heads-up when they need to take control.
VW has been at the autonomous vehicle testing game for nearly a decade, and Audi is one of the first to get its license to test its self-driving cars on California roads. This run isn't nearly as exciting as its 150 MPH blast around the Hockenheimring, but there are worse way to get to Vegas.