Audi: Smart maps key to driverless cars

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Las Vegas — Executives with Audi AG on Wednesday said the creation and adoption of smart maps is key to moving from the driver-assist technologies of today to fully autonomous cars that some expect on roads by the end of the decade.

The detailed, high-definition maps would supplement a vehicle’s sensors by giving a car a sense for what exactly is going on around the route it planned to take by using data from the environment and other vehicles. It would help paint the car a more complete picture of its surroundings beyond what its sensors would pick up in its immediate path.

“The car has to work on its own sensors, but if it knows something, it can work quicker — you know the environment, you know the way to go and how to go about possible danger on your trip, so you can handle it,” Peter Steiner, head of infotainment at Audi, said in a media roundtable at the CES technology show. “It’s just the next level of knowing the environment, having this real-time highly detailed map available.”

Audi in August announced a consortium with BMW and Daimler to create mapping technology to help rival Google Inc. They purchased maps unit HERE from Nokia Oyj for $3.1 billion. Audi expects other automakers to join but said Wednesday it didn’t have announcements since the deal closed in December.

“I think we should expand it,” Steiner said. “It should be open to any automotive manufacturers, and suppliers, IT industry, data generators and third-party services.”

HERE will continue to serve customers outside the consortium, including other automakers, SAP SE, Inc., Microsoft Corp. and individual consumers, Sean Fernback, the unit’s president, said in a video posted on its website after the August announcement. The company wants to be the “Switzerland of mapping,” Fernback said, referring to the country’s neutrality.

Alejandro Vukotich, head of Driver Assistance Systems for Audi, said legislation could be another roadblock to full autonomy. There’s no federal standard and the rules for driverless cars vary by state.

“We have to talk to each state and find separate agreements,” he said. “I would prefer a common approach.”

Despite the advances in technology, Vukotich said it will still take “some time yet” to put a completely driverless car on the road.

The automaker has tested an RS 7 driverless car in Germany and said it expects an A8 sedan in 2018 with a number of driverless features.

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Bloomberg News contributed.