By Jerry Hirsch
12:41 PM EST, January 7, 2013
Although Google has a leg up on automakers in the development of self-driving cars, it is becoming clear that the car companies don’t plan to cede this technology to the tech giant.
Audi said Monday that Nevada granted the German car brand a permit to operate a self-driving car in the state. It is only the second permit granted by Nevada -- the first went to Google.
Audi has a car, an Audi TTS, that was developed jointly by the Volkswagen Group Electronics Research Lab in Silicon Valley and Stanford University. It was able to complete a 156-turn, 12.42-mile circuit up Pikes Peak in Colorado in just 27 minutes.
The German automaker, owned by Volkswagen, said it “envisions motorists enjoying the convenience of allowing the car to handle mundane stop-and-go driving conditions, for example, while still being able to take control of the car when needed. In this way, the technology is similar to auto-pilot systems found on jetliners. Likewise, autonomous or piloted parking would let future Audi models park safely without a driver at the wheel in tight parking spaces.”
Google has about a dozen self-driving cars in operation -- all with a human behind the wheel ready to take over at any time. The cars have driven a combined 300,000 miles in varied traffic conditions without any accidents while under computer control.
The company uses a conventional car – often the Toyota Prius – and loads it with sensors and computers to develop a digital representation of its surroundings that provide guidance for the vehicle’s operations. Google has not said what it plans to do with the technology.
But automakers and traditional automotive systems suppliers are jumping into similar research in the belief that self-driving cars, or at least semi-autonomous safety systems such as collision avoidance will play a much bigger role in the future of driving.
Last week, Toyota’s Lexus division released a brief video of a self-driving project that it plans to talk more about at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.
The brief clip shows a full-size 2013 Lexus LS sedan driving on the road with a host of electronic gear attached to its front grille and the roof. A person can be seen in the driver's seat, in accordance with a new California law that took effect at the beginning of the year.
California allows the operation of an autonomous vehicles if a licensed driver is at the wheel and able to assume full manual control of the vehicle at any point.
Already, automakers are pouring millions of dollars into systems that hand more control of a vehicle to a complex network of sensors and computers. Features such as collision avoidance systems that sense a potential crash and trigger the brakes or an alert that tells drivers they are wandering into adjacent lanes are making their way into more cars every year.
Such systems could reduce accidents due to distracted or impaired drivers.
Automotive tire and electronics manufacturer Continental Corp. is also developing a self-driving car as well as autonomous systems, such as collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control, for existing vehicles.
"It's clear to us that automated driving will be a key element in the mobility of the future," said Dr. Elmar Degenhart, chairman of the executive board of Continental. "We will be able to develop the first applications for highly and ultimately fully automated driving, even at higher speeds and in more complex driving situations, ready for production by 2020 or 2025."
Google co-founder Sergey Brin has said that autonomous cars could be functional and safe for operation on public streets within a few years.