Humans were born wanderers, but time took it all away and our basic necessity became earning money. Yet, there is knack in all of us to break the shackles sometimes and go on a journey of a lifetime. Some achieve it, some don't. One such journey which we always wanted to embark on, is a coast to coast travel in a country.
Be it India - from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, or be it the U.S - from Las Vegas to New York. While much of the emphasis is laid on the driving, one forgets to enjoy the natural beauty of the land travelled. But if the project we are talking about comes true, it will change the way autonomous driving goes, virtually easing the pain of human to drive when going on a long journey.
Off-late, car manufacturers are extending their R&D abilities to perfect the autonomous driving systems. While Google can easily be crowned as the pioneer of autonomous car with the most futuristic technology, manufacturers like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Tesla are no behind in the advancement and have shown many prototypes over the years.
But we are not here to discuss about these big OEM manufacturers, are we? We are here to talk about a company called Delphi, which many of you might not have heard of! Delphi is not a car manufacturer per se, but is a key supplier of electronic components for the manufacturers. Its record of innovation includes the first electric starter in 1911, the first in-dash car radio in 1936, and the first integrated GPS in 1994.
The date was March 22, 2015, when Delphi decided to go a step ahead and accomplish the unachievable. An 2014 Audi SQ5 was fitted with an autonomous driving system developed by Delphi intended to travel from Golden Gate Bridge to New York on a one-of-its-kind 5600 km long journey, a journey that will change the definition of robo-car forever.
While we may sound a bit biased towards Delphi considering that Audi did a self-driving thing from Silicon to Las Vagas few months ago and Google has already clocked some 1000000 kms in the process to perfect the self-driving cars, we have to confess that this test by Delphi is one of the most ambitious among all, for it is not done by an OEM like Audi or Nissan, but a parts manufacturer.
“It’s time to put our vehicle to the ultimate test by broadening the range of driving conditions,” says Delphi CTO Jeff Owens. Spanned over 8 days, the journey ended successfully ended a couple of days ago creating history. History because Delphi can sell the technology to any car manufacturer or individual, unlike the OEM manufacturers who will keep it exclusive to their cars.
The Audi SQ5 looks like any other Audi from the outside apart from the Delphi stickers all around, but what is inside the car defines it. The Delphi's Audi is equipped with sensors and equipments like:
1. A camera installed on windshield to look for lane lines, road signs, and traffic lights
2. 2 long range radars at front and back, with a maximum range of 180 meters either side
3. 2 mid-range radars with a range of 80 meters installed in front and back
4. Another 2 mid-range radars installed on the sides to look at both the corners.
But why embark on a road-trip so magnanimous? Well, according to Delphi, it's all about collecting the data. Delphi in the past, has clocked several hundred kilometers around Silicon Valley and Las Vegas. But going around California to New York helped them gather important information like driving habits, that will help in improving the technology and alter the software to make driving more reliable.
But it's not like the company will start selling the technology to customers. Delphi is still under testing phase and they intend to make drivings safe in the near future. Going by the rate with which companies are coming up with their iteration autonomous driving, Delhphi's system will only help them to borrow the tech and make their own technology more feasible.
“What we expect to do is be able to create better sensors and more sensors, and then the software algorithms as well, which the [automakers] will need as they take more steps along that journey to automated driving,” says Owens. Working on an autonomous car helps one to develop the hardwares like radar and LIDaR and softwares like the algorithms that make driving decisions.
Like we mentioned earlier, the Delphi trip was spanned over eight days with almost eight hours a day drive, which means the car covered some 800 kms everyday at a speed of 100 kmph. That's an impressive number by any standard, given it was not manually driven at any point of the time apart from a few occasions when one of the humans inside took the wheel when not on the highway.
Actually Delphi has mastered the highway driving, but the city drive is still under preparatory phase. According to Owen “virtually anything you would do on the highway, the car will be capable of doing as well.” Which means the Delphi tech can actually maintain a steady pace at highway, sticking to a safe distance and maintaining lane driving. In the emergency situations, it can also brake like hell, and move to the left or right if it’s safe.
The whole of effort and time was chosen deliberately to finish the journey on the eve of the ongoing New York auto show, announcing to the public, and automakers, what the future holds for them. As much as we are excited to learn the prospects of autonomous driving, we are also filled with fear hearing what Elon Musk (Tesla CEO) has to say - 'Eventually, human driving will be banned'.