Audi of America announced Tuesday that it has selected a Northern California venue to test its proposed self-driving motor vehicles.
Audi said engineers will study data amassed at Thunderhill Raceway Park, just outside Willows in Glenn County. The three-mile, 15-turn road course is a popular site for special automotive events, kart races, vintage auto races, corporate events and trade shows.
Initial testing already has begun at the site, according to Audi spokesman Mark Clothier
Audi said its engineers want to gather data on the “dynamics of self-driving cars at elevated speeds” with an aim of anticipating “extreme conditions a piloted driving car would face on public roads around the world.” Audi said its goal is to make its self-driving cars as safe as possible.
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The American arm of the German automaker said its testing will be coordinated with its own engineers and those with the Electronics Research Laboratory in Belmont in San Mateo County. The ERL is a global research and development network that supports the Volkswagen Group brands, including Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini and VW.
Audi hopes to introduce its automated driving technology – which it calls “piloted driving” – with the next-generation Audi A8 sedan in the next couple of years.
“Thunderhill provides a perfect setting to safely test the wide range of systems that will make highly automated driving a reality in the new future,” said Ewald Goessmann, ERL director.
Audi spokesman Clothier said initial testing is being done with self-driving cars designed to have a driver on board.
Last month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a draft of proposed regulations for self-driving vehicles, with the key provision that a licensed driver must be at the wheel in case of emergency. The proposed regulations, subject to extensive public input before approval, were regarded as a historic initial step that could someday allow everyday motorists to travel in autonomous vehicles throughout the Golden State.
Even so, DMV’s proposed regulations for the first generation of autonomous vehicles were considered conservative, requiring the vehicle to be equipped with steering wheels, pedals and a licensed driver behind the wheel. The licensed driver must be ready to take control if the self-driving technology fails, or in the event of another emergency, DMV said.
DMV also wants automakers to regularly report on autonomous vehicle development, saying data collected will evaluate the safety and real-world performance of autonomous vehicles.
Also on Tuesday, Ford Motor Co. announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it is tripling its fleet of fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid test vehicles to 30. Ford said those vehicles will be tested on roads in California, Arizona and Michigan.