Autonomously Yours: Delphi Tests Driverless Cars
A few years ago the idea of driverless cars on our streets and highways seemed a distant possibility, maybe even a fantasy. But today, it seems that we might see autonomously driven vehicles on our roads sooner than we think.
In March 2015, Delphi, global supplier to the automotive industry, pushed the start button on the technology test for an autonomous vehicle. The vehicle, which is an Audi, started off in San Francisco and made a 3,500-mile cross-country trip across the country, completing its trek in New Jersey nine days later.
No major automaker has announced they'll be selling autonomous vehicles anytime soon. It's going to take time and more testing of how such systems will work on a massive scale. There are over 250 million vehicles registered in the U.S. How do we get autonomous vehicles into that loop?
By demonstrating their capabilities and proofing technology on this first-ever, cross-country trip, Delphi has raised the bar. Their autonomous car has already driven many miles in California and Nevada, two states that allow autonomous vehicles on public roads. Delphi's high-tech Audi completed 99 percent of its trip in fully autonomous mode.
"Our vehicle performed remarkably well during this drive, exceeding our expectations," Jeff Owens, Delphi chief technology officer, said in a statement. "The knowledge obtained from this trip will help optimize our existing active safety products and accelerate our future product development, which will allow us to deliver unsurpassed automotive grade technologies to our customers."
During the cross-country trek, the vehicle was challenged under a variety of driving conditions from changing weather and terrain to potential road hazards -- things that could never truly be tested in a lab. Two human drivers accompanied the car in its drive across country to capture data and to have hands on the wheel in states where that is required.
Several Delphi engineers are along for this historic ride. "We don't want to give too much away," said Delphi spokesperson Kristen Kinley. "We don't want our talented engineers poached by the competition. But we have a big crew working on collecting the data from this trip."
Here's what was tested in this cross-country trip:
-- Radar, vision, and Advanced Drive Assistance Systems (ADAS). This is an integrated system that uses radar, cameras, and data to drive.
-- Multi-domain controller: This high-end microprocessor seamlessly drives multiple features and functions.
-- V2V/V2X: Wireless vehicle communication technology extends the range of existing ADAS functionality.
-- Intelligent software that enables the vehicle to make complex, human-like decisions for real-world automated driving, including Traffic Jam Assist, Automated Highway Pilot with Lane Change (on-ramp to off-ramp highway pilot), Automated Urban Pilot, and Automated Parking and Valet.
Delphi used the vehicle to test how well the vehicle instantaneously makes complex decisions, like stopping and then proceeding at a four-way stop, timing a highway merge, or calculating the safest maneuver around a bicyclist on a city street. Many of these driving scenarios have been a limitation for much of the current technology on the market today.
"There continues to be a need for more data on how autonomous technologies function in real-life conditions," says Bryan Reimer, associate director of the New England University Transportation Center and a research scientist at the MIT AgeLab.
"Delphi appears to have gone to great lengths to develop a vehicle that they believe will have the robustness to travel a great distance, through various weather and roadway configurations. I am very encouraged by their emphasis on following state laws (such as in some states that require hands on the wheel), and focus on ensuring there is an operator whose responsibility is to take control if situations warrant.
"Our comprehensive product portfolio and vehicle integration expertise uniquely positions Delphi as one of only a handful of companies with the ability to provide automakers complete automated driving solutions," says Owens. Fully automated systems that may be phased in after 2020 could add about $5,000 to the cost of a car, estimates Glen De Vos, vice president of advanced and product engineering for Delphi's electronics and safety division.
It's an exciting time to be in the automotive arena: So much is happening on so many fronts and autonomous driving is a brave new world.
Kate has written for magazines and newspapers for over 20 years. She has written for More, Edmunds.com, ForbesAutos.com, Houston Chronicle, Motion, Chief Executive, The New York Daily News, The New York Sun, and Autobytel.com. Her column, GirlDriver, USA is syndicated in seven newspapers in Upstate New York. Ms. McLeod is the author of Beetlemania, The Car That Captured the Hearts of Millions. She holds an MFA from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and is also a playwright. She is former First Vice President of the International Motor Press Association and a member of both The Authors and Dramatists Guilds.