LAS VEGAS--At its press conference at CES 2013, Audi didn't just vaguely announce that it was working on developing self-driving cars. Rather, the automaker boasted that is about to begin autonomous car testing on public roads in Nevada.
Ricky Hudi, head of electronics development for Audi, told us that the automaker is the first automaker to attain a license for testing self-driving cars in the state of Nevada and that it has begun testing automated driving and parking. Audi may be the first automaker granted this license, but it's still second behind Google -- the recipient of the very first autonomous driving license in the state.
Audi took time at CES to remind us that it already has a fairly extensive history with autonomous cars, including its , which was able to complete the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, a dangerous course even for capable human drivers.
Audi's Hudi pointed out that the path to autonomous consumer cars would be through an evolution of current driver aid technologies and that these cars wouldn't necessarily be "driverless." The driver of this future autonomous car will still need to be awake and aware, but the system will be able to handle the minutiae of driving during traffic jams or long freeway cruises.
Consumers will definitely not want to buy cars with a roof rack full of sensors and a trunk full of computers, so the automaker also demonstrated two bits of miniaturization technology: a smaller laser sensor array and a full automotive electronics system on a single board. The laser sensor array was small enough for Hudi to hold in his hand during the presentation, a massive shrinkage over the gigantic spinning laser arrays that normally sit atop autonomous cars. The single-board system was a motherboard about the size of two ATX boards that contained all of the electronics for an Audi A3, controlling the vehicle's power train, infotainment, traction, and other systems.
Scott Keogh, president of Audi of America, was also on hand and stated that autonomous technology in consumer cars is just around the corner. However, he was hesitant to comment on Audi's time frames or to speculate on the industry.