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Start-up offers aftermarket kit for autonomous Audi cruising

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July 1, 2014

The Cruise RP-1 turns an Audi A4 or S4 into a semi-autonomous car

The Cruise RP-1 turns an Audi A4 or S4 into a semi-autonomous car

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Automotive tuners and aftermarket companies offer many ways of adding performance, luxury and personalization to cars and trucks. Each year, the SEMA Show highlights the latest and loudest. Now there's a start-up advertising an aftermarket kit designed to tune your car into a self-driving chauffeur … kind of. Cruise's Audi automation kit lets the car take over most of the driving but still requires a human driver at the ready.

Cruise was founded in San Francisco last November by Kyle Vogt, a tech entrepreneur who also had a hand in founding Justin.tv, Socialcam and Twitch. Cruise has more than half a dozen employees – primarily engineers with an MIT background – working to perfect an "advanced driver assistance system" it calls RP-1.

Not to be confused with the RP1 roadster, which was also revealed recently, the Cruise RP-1 is an autonomous upgrade kit that promises to provide a stepping stone to an autonomous driving future. The most obvious part of the kit is the roof-mounted sensor pod outfitted with cameras, radar and other hardware. Like manufacturer-installed sensor systems, the sensor pod gives the RP-1 the ability to monitor surrounding vehicles, road markings and other objects, essentially serving as a more advanced set of eyes.

From there, the RP-1 system processes information through its dedicated, trunk-mounted computer and, when necessary, makes driving adjustments via braking, acceleration and steering systems. It's designed to take over the bulk of the driving work the minute the driver pushes a simple "on" button.

An overview of Cruise hardware

Those looking forward to autonomous vehicles shouldn't get too excited, and those unsure about the idea of self-driving autos shouldn't get up in arms just yet. Cruise has designed the package specifically for the Audi A4/S4 (2012 or newer). That's it. The company plans to modify the system for additional vehicles in the future, but for now it's focused on just the A4 and S4.

When we first read over Cruise's materials, its US$10,000 system didn't sound much different from Audi's own $2,800 Driver Assist package. That package includes adaptive cruise control with stop & go, pre sense plus and active lane assist, a combination that can follow the flow of traffic, bring the vehicle to a stop, and assist in preventing collisions and lane swerves, much like the RP-1. However, Cruise tells us that its system is designed to shift more responsibility from driver to vehicle, letting the driver take his hands completely off the steering wheel.

"The current packages that are offered by major automotive manufacturers are actually fairly new and don't necessarily handle all the functions that the RP-1 will," explains Daniel Kan, Cruise's head of operations. "For example, the Mercedes lane keeping will do slight corrections via the brakes on either side of the car, instead of fully taking over the steering for you. If you remove your hands from the wheel for more than a few seconds, it starts beeping at you and will eventually slow down.

Our product is designed to take over all the stressful parts of driving on the highway. You still need to be paying attention, but it will take complete control of the vehicle with one fully integrated system."

Like less autonomous cruise control systems, the RP-1 is activated at the push of a button

A Cruise-equipped car will still require the driver to intervene in certain situations, switch lanes when desired, and perform the turn-by-turn navigation. While on an approved highway in a single lane, however, he or she will be able to leave the steering, accelerating and braking up to the car.

The RP-1 may prove to be more interesting as an aftermarket automation concept than as an actual product. The RP-1 adds about 30 percent to the base price of the A4. That rather steep price gets the owner a kit that's being advertised with terms like "autopilot" and "driverless" but is really a semi-autonomous upgrade that appears only a bit more advanced than the systems offered directly by automakers, systems that are more cleanly integrated.

Cruise also has some work left to do before its planned 2015 launch. While it put the RP-1 up for limited preorder last week, it is still collecting mapping data and testing the autopilot system. The RP-1 currently only works on select California highways, with expansion onto other highways planned for the future. Varying state regulations are another major obstacle that could hamper the system's availability.

Cruise plans to begin installations of the $10,000 RP-1 package at its San Francisco headquarters beginning in early 2015. We'll wait and see if it's able to stick to that timeframe.

A company promo video follows.

Source: Cruise

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work.   All articles by C.C. Weiss
7 Comments

As someone who works with expensive mostly reliable technology and still sees failures the idea of driving on the road with DIY autonomous cars scares me.

Saying you require the driver to be alert and ready to take control is a legal loophole for the company to prevent from being sued. The reality is there should be 2 fully redundant systems capable of allowing you to safely sleep in the back seat before the autonomous system should be legal for public roads because people will use it as an excuse to not pay attention to the road.

If a bunch of hack job first gen systems end up in head on collisions many states will pull the plug on automated driving before better more reliable systems even hit the market.

The licensing needed for these systems before they are ready for consumer use needs to be comprehensive. With that said I drove 2 blocks on my motorcycle the other night, saw 2 cars and they both pulled out right in front of me. I even SMIDSY weaved expecting it.

Daishi
1st July, 2014 @ 09:40 pm PDT

It should be essential for the person who will be considered the 'driver' of any autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicle to always have at least one hand on the steering-wheel and be ready to instantaneously take over full control should the need arise.

Motor vehicles are manufactured in such numbers that the guiding principle should be that, no matter how unlikely, if something can happen, it will happen and therefore contingency should be included in the design. That principle should then inform any decision regarding culpability in the event of an accident.

Having said all that, there is much to be applauded in systems that can make driving easier and safer, which this design appears to go a long way towards achieving.

Mel Tisdale
2nd July, 2014 @ 02:26 am PDT

Either fully autonomous or fully manual control I don't want people to sit in the drivers seat of other vehicles and kill people because they expected the partial controls system of their own car to do some of the work.

When they get a fully functional auto drive system working putting it into a human form robot that can walk between different vehicles.

Slowburn
2nd July, 2014 @ 02:31 am PDT

@Slowburn

Where does one stop with the automation? We have already come a long way when one considers what drivers had to do manually in the early days of the previous century. There was no point in hand cranking the engine until you had set the choke and ignition advance properly and readjusted them afterwards when on the move. Then consider just how many cars have automatic transmission, a godsend in heavy traffic. Having the car follow the one in front at a safe distance will make it even more of benefit. Today it is possible to have adaptive cruise control, which is a nice feature to have on busy motorways and we are soon to have self-dipping headlights etc. as mentioned here recently. People do drive when they should rest and lane control warnings might save a few lives, which has to be to the good.

In London the Docklands Light Railway, which is driverless is fine, indeed great fun if you can get a seat at the very front, but ask someone to fly in a pilotless aircraft, be it autonomous or remote piloted, and judging by the discussions I have had with people, few would be prepared to risk it. I suspect that the same fate awaits autonomous cars, especially when they take the limiters off and let them perform near the top end of their performance band. Once the driver is no longer the driver, so to speak, is when the whole autonomous house of cards will come crashing down. At least it will keep the lawyers occupied while they sort out who did what to whom and who should pay whom as a result (on top of their exorbitant fees, of course)

Mel Tisdale
2nd July, 2014 @ 07:36 am PDT

@ Mel Tisdale

Not being able to drive a stick keeps people from driving a stick. Having grown use to not having to pay attention to the car ahead of you applying its brakes does not keep you from driving a car without an auto brake system it does just about guarantee that you will have an accident if you drive a car that does not have an auto brake system.

Slowburn
2nd July, 2014 @ 04:38 pm PDT

Until every car on the road can be pre or retro fitted with even this rudimentary systen - and even then - a qualified driver in position MUST be mandatory to take control if needed.

A lane drift sensor blows a fuse? Could cause a head-on. Even the car spacing radar and autobrake, if it malfunctions, could mean a rear-ender.

People at present will still ignore dashboard warning lights or 'bells and chimes' for engine faults, seat belts undone, etc., so a fair degree of attention will still be needed.

As a present-time example - If a simple, low-spec ignition switch, surely having enough time for makers to get right, can cause GM that many recalls, with a cost of millions in upcoming lawsuits alone, what chance does a full-auto, or even a semi-auto, system have for disaster?

The Skud
2nd July, 2014 @ 06:44 pm PDT

I would argue that the idea behind this technology is a good one. It essentially comes down to time. The best part of public transportation is that it gives you time during the commute to put your focus elsewhere while only giving minimal attention to navigation. That alone is more than worth the testing and pioneering. I will say that I understand the concerns to safety with the way things are. But this doesn't have to go all in one step. Theoretically we could start by just have safe "zones" where the road itself is designed to work with autonomous driving and pretty much acts like a train on a track and every car would just basically be a cart with its position monitored. That way this could practiced on in a more controlled environment. That's just one idea but I think everyone should be more open to giving this area a chance.

Warren Drones
3rd July, 2014 @ 10:45 pm PDT
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