What’s stopping automakers from selling driverless cars? Not all that much, it seems.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Audi revealed today a giant step forward in a car that drove itself right onto the stage and stopped just like a rational human being with a decent instinct for self-preservation would. And there wasn’t even an Audi tech holding a remote control behind the curtain!
No, the car in question is the Audi Sport Quattro Laserlight concept. It’s called laserlight because of the laser diodes in the headlamps (Fun fact: laserlight can illuminate twice as far as LEDs, with three times the brightness—but they’re not the focus of this blog post).
What makes this car special is its system of radars, sensors, cameras, lasers and internal computing that lets it receive and process 2.5 billion pieces of information every single second. That information can be the presence of other cars, what those cars’ computers are saying, whether pedestrians are nearby, whether the traffic light ahead is about to turn to yellow, and what the road sign you just missed said.
All of that amazing amount of processing power is held inside a single “superchip” that’s more like a “superbook.” Computer chips are typically known for getting smaller and smaller. This one is about the size of an iPad. It has 192 cores—think of a core as a bicep: 192 biceps of computer power. To put that into perspective, the new video game consoles, which produce the bleeding edge of graphics, have eight cores.
This “superchip” in the Audi is tucked into the rear of the car like a piece of toast in a toaster. As has been noted, just 12 months ago the technology needed to do what Audi is doing would have taken up the entire rear trunk space. Big, heavy, loud, hot. Way too cumbersome for the average car. What Audi has done, in terms of space, is nothing short of magical.
So, back to our initial question: when can you buy one? The answer seems to depend on governmental regulations. Driverless cars are a big change to our culture, and also constitute a public safety issue. Current laws definitely don’t address the technology behind driverless cars because the technology is still being invented.
As Audi showed, however, we’re taking the first step.
Rupert Stadler, chairman of Audi, demonstrated his ability to embrace marketing-speak in a breathtaking moment of verbal jujitsu: “We are not reinventing the car, we are redefining mobility.”
Expect more moments of redefining mobility in the next 12 months.