Delphi Plans First Coast-to-Coast Driverless Auto Demonstration

Delphi Automotive Plc, a supplier of car electronics, is undertaking the longest test of a driverless auto, going coast to coast in the U.S. with a specially outfitted Audi Q5 sport-utility vehicle.

The SUV will cover about 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers) from San Francisco to the New York City area starting March 22, said Jeff Owens, Delphi’s chief technology officer. Company engineers, including a trained driver, will be in the Q5 the whole trip, he said. Arrival is planned for early April, to coincide with the New York Auto Show.

“We will gain more miles experience than anybody else has been able to achieve so far,” Owens, who plans to ride part of the way, said at a March 11 briefing in Troy, Michigan. “I’m excited for the drive. We’re going to learn a lot.”

Automakers are racing to put autonomous cars on the road as a solution to global gridlock expected as more than 9 billion people move to large megacities within the next 25 years. The market for autonomous technology will grow to $42 billion by 2025 and self-driving cars may account for a quarter of global auto sales by 2035, according to Boston Consulting Group.

Delphi will take a southern route before completing its journey at either the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, or Liberty State Park near the Statue of Liberty.

Self-driving cars that move in harmony like schools of fish are expected to one day ease traffic congestion while improving safety on the road. They will also let commuters multitask while traveling, improving productivity.

Ford, GM

Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields said in January that an automaker probably will introduce a self-driving vehicle within five years. General Motors Co. said in September it will introduce hands-free highway driving technology on a Cadillac in two years.

Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz already sells a system that can pilot a car on the freeway, as long as the driver keeps a hand on the wheel, and by 2016 will have a hands-free system, according to Boston Consulting. Mercedes this year unveiled a self-driving concept car, with seats that can face each other, rather than the road. Six screens let passengers monitor information about the vehicle and the outside world, using technology that responds to eye movements and gestures.

Delphi’s self-driving concept SUV has 20 sensors and cameras that constantly read the road, traffic and the surrounding environment, Owens said. High-speed computing technology from Ottomatika Inc. and Nvidia Corp., as well as cameras from Mobileye NV, help the vehicle to instantly make complex decisions, such as timing a highway merge or calculating the safest way around a slow-moving vehicle.

Wealth of Data

Delphi engineers will capture all the data the Q5 generates as it rolls through a variety of highway situations.

“We’re going to understand what the sensors can do and can’t do in multiple conditions, multiple weather conditions, multiple traffic and construction,” Owens said.

Delphi expects to capture 2 terabytes of data, the equivalent of “about 25 percent of all printed material in the Library of Congress,” he said.

Delphi offered 5-mile test drives in the same vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. Owens said it operated “flawlessly,” including when two revelers walked out in front of it.

“We had PBS in the car filming, going down the road at night and a couple of guys that were slightly inebriated on the sidewalk decided they were going to step out and fell right in front of the car,” he said. “The car performed exactly as you would expect and braked to a stop. Everything was just fine.”

Highway Only

The cross-country test will measure only how the SUV performs in highway driving. When the Q5 exits to surface streets, the engineer behind the wheel will take over, Owens said. The SUV will be driven as any as 8 hours a day, he said.

Delphi’s previous longest test was from San Francisco to Los Angeles, said Glen De Vos, vice president of global advanced and product engineering. That’s about 380 miles.

“We had great success testing our car in California and Las Vegas,” Owens said. “Now it’s time to put our vehicle to the ultimate test.”

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