AUTO Connected Car News had the privilege of interviewing Kathy Winter, Vice President of Software Services at Delphi about how she engineered the Delphi cross-country autonomous drive in an Audi Q5 outfitted with Delphi self-driving technology. It is America’s first and longest drive by an autonomous vehicle, covering 3,400 miles, 99% of the time in self-driving mode.
“The biggest thing we learned from the trip was that the performance was better than expected,” said Kathy Winter who road in the car for some of the Delphi cross-country road trip to New York.
How the Self-Drive Worked
The drive was orchestrated by Winter, who at first monitored the team of six engineers from the Delphi Kokomo, Indiana facility.
Ms. Winter explained how the driving teams gathered data and communicated on the road. While the Delphi “Roadrunner” Audi Q5 was in self-driving mode, one engineer sat in the driver’s seat while another engineer with a notebook computer connected through Delphi Connect Wi-Fi 4G LTE, recorded information and sent information back to Delphi. The Dephi Connect is a device available through Verizon Wireless that connects to the OBDII port, provides Wi-Fi hotspots in the car and a app with services such as remote start for compatible vehicles.
The crew kept spreadsheets noting very time the driver placed his hands on the wheel and took over from the automated driving system. While the car was driving, the car data was feed live to the screen in the center stack and entertainment screens on the back of the front seats.
The atmosphere was like any other family road trip, says Winter, the passengers talked to each other, listened to the radio and ate pizza.
Engineers stayed at the wheel in 6-8 hour shifts followed by another Delphi car with more crew members. About halfway through the cross-country trip, new team members were flown-in to join the crew.
Sensors & Equipment
There were several types of sensors that continued to work through all weather conditions. The radar was not affected by dirt or weather because it is placed behind panels in the car. Clear lenses were cut into the bumpers for the Lidar. Lidar was also positioned below the back window. Three vision system cameras are the same cameras available in cars today. All the sensing equipment used is currently available to automakers.
Computer processors where hidden so that the car looked like normal car, many of the processors were placed in the trunk in place of the spare tire. Therefore there was “no junk in the trunk” or huge can on the top, like Google self-driving cars.
Name, Games & Lanes
Roadrunner knew the speed limit by reading signs and from data which kept it from ever exceeding the speed limit. Advanced intelligent software provided Traffic Jam Assist to enable the car to handle rush hour traffic in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
The trip was primarily on the highway because urban areas have to mapped in order for the vehicle to drive correctly. Delphi didn’t use the HOV lane because it doesn’t mimic real-life driving situations.
A total three terabytes worth of data was collected, “Our experience will make cars safer in the future,” commented Winter.
The car was named Roadrunner through social media suggestions and decided by the crew who identified with the bird that travels across vast deserts.
Driving was completed during daylight hours only, says Winter because they didn’t want the engineers to become drowsy, even though the car could drive at night.
Probably, more amazing than the fact the car never went over the speed limit, was that the Delphi Roadrunner functioned without ever being washed. Roadrunner arrived in New York with dirt and dead bug goo on it, still fully functioning. Some self-driving systems do not work well once the sensors or camera are dirty.
Roadrunner had to deal with various situations including heat, rain and even tumbleweed. In the case of tumbleweed, the software accesses the speed of the weed and determines if it a closed or open box and then determines if the car should go around the weed.
Road conditions did not prove to be a problem, even in states where the snow plows had removed some of the white lines on the highways, the car drove fine, says Winter.
When Can We Get it?
During her whirlwind media interviews, Winter is most often asked, “How soon can I get a self-driving car?” She notes that people are frustrated driving for so long in traffic and are afraid of driving distractions.
When asked if an autonomous self-driving car were on the market if she would buy one, Winter replied, “Yes. I have a vested interest in safety. I have four teenage boys who all drive. A self-driving car does not get distracted, text or listen to loud music while driving.”