A Driverless Car Heads Out On a 3,500-Mile Trip

On Sunday, a car is set to make a cross-country road trip. This might sound pretty run-of-the-mill, except that no one except the car itself will be the one doing the driving from California to New York. The driverless Delphi Automotive PLC car will set the record for the longest drive ever by a driverless car in North America if it completes the 3,500-mile trip.

According to ABC News, the self-driving car, modeled off of a 2014 Audi SQ5, set out Sunday morning from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on a trek to New York City that’s estimated to take 10 days. Admittedly, the car won’t be out on the roads entirely on its own — a person will sit behind the wheel for the duration of the trip, but will not touch the wheel unless there is an emergency. The longest trip that a driverless car has ever managed was a 2010 trip by Italian company VisLab in which a driverless van embarked on a 8,000-mile journey from Europe to Shanghai that took three months to complete, Business Insider reports.

So, how’s this car going to make the journey solo? Delphi designed the car so it’s full of sensors and computers that can essentially replace the human driver. Wired reports that there’s a camera in the windshield to keep a lookout for the hazards of the road, lane lines, and road signs. The car also has radars installed on each corner and the front and the back. Some are mid-range and others are long-range to keep tabs on what’s going on around the car both 80 meters and 180 meters away. The car can manage four-way stops, merging onto highways, and steering around unexpected presences in the roadway, such as a bicyclist.

The road trip will allow Delphi to fine-tune the car’s features, give it a test run, and collect more data on how the car drives and how it handles various hazards and stimuli on the road. So far, the car has passed the test on both the streets of California and Las Vegas, but Delphi describes this cross-country trip as the car’s “ultimate test.” ABC News reports that Delphi said in a press release:

The vehicle will be 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.

ABC reports that when the car went on one eight-mile, 36-minute test drive in California, there were virtually no problems. The only time that a human took over was when the car unexpectedly had to merge into another lane due to road construction. But, generally, Wired reports that the car can make split-second decisions should it get cut off or something of the like, and the car can also manage passing slower cars and keeping a steady speed and distance away from other cars on the road.

For the next 10 days, we’ll be waiting with bated breath to see if the car makes it to New York City successfully. Because if a driverless car pulls off this cross-country drive, that means road trips in the future could look a whole lot different.