Jack arrived safely in Vegas on Monday afternoon. Doesn't sound like enthralling news, does it? I'm sure you're happy for Jack and wishing his liver well, but that's about it. But what if I told you that Jack is Audi's self-piloted prototype that drove 550 miles from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas? Now I have your attention.
Jack, an Audi A7, made the drive along with a human passenger as part of the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Sin City. In the spirit of Vegas, the drive truly was a gamble. During a self-driving car demonstration at last year's conference, the Audi's system failed and the human had to take over. While that could be comforting to know that we can at least sometimes be more capable than machines, it wasn't a great look for the technology itself.
But Jack's road trip seems to have gone off without a hitch this year. The car is equipped with sensors that enable it to change lanes, overtake other vehicles, accelerate, and brake with little assistance. It does need some help navigating urban areas, however, and there's a function that will slow the car to a stop if the human "driver" doesn't respond to the car when it travels over 70 mph.
Still, this is some sci-fi stuff to be sure. Audi plans on releasing a self-driving car to the public by the end of 2016, but it doesn't mean that trips can turn into nap time. Believe me, I wish they could. Mashable's Lance Ulanoff cruised around the Vegas streets in a self-driving Audi 2014 SQ45 SUV and revealed some of the particulars with autopilot. Ulanoff's test-drive vehicle was able to handle urban streets, unlike Jack, so other than navigating in and out of the parking lot, his guide didn't handle the vehicle.
But first the car has to be "licensed" to drive. Many states and municipalities don't allow automated-driving vehicles at all, but Nevada has an exception. While there will be many regulatory hurdles before the cars become mainstream, the Audi SUV was deemed good to go after a Nevada official sat in the passenger seat and graded its driving performance. And trust me, it probably did better than you did on your driving test.
So, if you're in the market for a new space machine, erm, car, watch out for self-piloted driving to take over the roads. Does that mean there will still be road rage?