Audi plans to start offering advanced self-driving features in its cars by the end of next year. The company’s technology boss, Ulrich Hackenberg, meanwhile, expects fully autonomous vehicles to be ready for serial production within 10 years. Hackenberg discussed the game-changing development of self-driving vehicles and the potential effects of falling oil prices with Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri last month on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
An Audi A7 Sportback recently drove itself almost 900km from Palo Alto, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. What message does that send regarding the potential mass production of autonomous vehicles?
It depends on your definition of autonomous driving. A vehicle capable of driving itself with no need for any interaction from the driver, even in critical situations, is probably 10 years away. If you mean what we call “piloted driving,” which is a car that can drive itself but still calls on the driver to intervene in critical situations, the technology is already here. We used standard-definition maps for the drive from Palo Alto to Las Vegas, but we used high-definition digital maps to have our autonomously driven RS7 top 240kph on the 4.5km, 17-curve Hockenheim race circuit last October.
What is the biggest hurdle slowing the launch of fully autonomous vehicles?
By far it’s legislation. Nowhere in the world are there laws that permit cars to autonomously drive on public roads. Even in California and Nevada, where Audi was among the first automakers to get a permit to test autonomous driving, the law requires that a test driver always is at the wheel, ready to intervene if needed.