Delphi completes 3,400-mile autonomous trip

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

New York — Auto supplier Delphi Delphi Automotive PLC said Thursday it has completed an almost entirely autonomous 3,400-mile trip across North America — the latest effort to show off the future of driving by machines.

British-based Delphi — with its North American headquarters in Troy — began what it calls the longest automated drive in North America, traveling from San Francisco to New York “in the first coast-to-coast trip ever taken by an automated vehicle. Nearly 3,400 miles were covered with 99 percent of the drive in fully automated mode.”

Delphi drove in a modified Audi Q5 crossover with laser sensors, radar and multiple cameras and began its trip March 22 in San Francisco.

The nine-day trip crossed 15 states and the District of Columbia. Along the way, Delphi’s vehicle encountered complex driving situations such as traffic circles, construction zones, bridges, tunnels, aggressive drivers and a variety of weather. Automated vehicles don’t perform well in rain or snow. Google Inc. said in January that its autonomous car doesn’t work in snow.

The drive was used by Delphi engineers to research and collect information that will help further advance active safety technology — such as systems that warn drivers of oncoming crashes or activate brakes to try to prevent a crash. Delphi says it is the most rapidly growing technology sector of the auto industry. The team collected nearly 3 terabytes of data — equivalent to 30 percent of all of the printed material in the Library of Congress.

“Our vehicle performed remarkably well during this drive, exceeding our expectations,” said Jeff Owens, Delphi chief technology officer. “The knowledge obtained from this trip will help optimize our existing active safety products and accelerate our future product development, which will allow us to deliver unsurpassed automotive grade technologies to our customers.”

Mercedes-Benz and Audi AG have both conducted long-range autonomous drives in Europe and in the United States. Under U.S. law, a licensed driver must be in the driver’s seat ready to assume command in the event of a problem.

Google is working on a fully autonomous car without a steering wheel that will be able to go up to 25 miles an hour. In January, it said it doesn't need approval from the U.S. auto safety agency to test fully autonomous self-driving cars, even as the search-engine giant acknowledged that autonomous cars won't be foolproof.

The company has logged more than 700,000 miles of self-driving mostly in retrofitted Lexus vehicles, but humans handle the driving in certain weather and at critical points, like getting onto highways.

NHTSA said the Google vehicles must meet U.S. requirements — though if the Google test cars are "low-speed" vehicles they would face less restrictive U.S. requirements.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said before self-driving cars could be offered for sale they would need to be at least 10 times safer than human drivers. Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche has said they should be at least safer.

The auto safety agency is laying the groundwork for nationwide regulations if autonomous vehicles become commercially available. A number of states have sought input from the agency, which doesn't want states setting their own safety requirements.

Driverless cars use video cameras, radar sensors, laser rangefinders and detailed maps to monitor road and driving conditions. Automated systems make corrections to keep the car in the lane, brake and accelerate to avoid accidents, and navigate.

Google said it has been working with a number of auto suppliers on its fleet of about 100 test self-driving cars. Google said it worked with Roush, RCO, ZF Lenksysteme, Continental, Bosch, Frimo, LG Electronics, Prefix and others to build fully autonomous vehicle prototypes — with Roush assembling them in its Metro Detroit offices. The company has also been in talks with numerous automakers about potentially building a future autonomous vehicle.