Audi is making two world premieres at this week’s 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one of which is an autonomous A7 concept that drove to the event itself, after starting off Saturday in San Francisco. The total distance traveled was more than 550 miles, with a number of engineers and journalists given time behind the wheel.

Not only is the stunt being used to gather data for an eventual production autonomous car from Audi, it’s also a means of demonstrating the viability of a self-driving car in existing traffic and road conditions. The trek took the A7 concept across roads in California and Nevada, both of which have given a number of automakers permission to test autonomous cars on public roads.  

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The A7 concept is able to drive itself between speeds of 0 and 70 mph, including making lane changes and passing maneuvers. Before making a lane change, the vehicle adapts its speed to surrounding vehicles. If the speed and distance calculation is deemed safe, the vehicle initiates the lane change with precision and in a timely manner.

To be able to drive itself, the A7 concept relies on a combination of various sensors, many of which are close to production ready. These include long-range radar sensors already in use in Audi’s cruise control and side-assist driving aids, as well as two mid-range radar sensors that complete a 360 degree view. Laser scanners are mounted within the grille and the rear bumper; these deliver information to provide detailed recognition of various objects, static or moving, on the road.

On top of this, a new high-resolution 3D video camera, already integrated into the next-generation driving aids found in the upcoming 2016 Q7, takes a wide-angle view out in front of the vehicle. Four small front and rear mounted cameras view closer surroundings. Finally, navigation data is used for basic vehicle orientation.

Information from all these systems is then processed by a computer that adjusts the steering wheel, brakes and transmission as necessary. At any time the driver can intervene and take control of the vehicle. In addition, the A7 concept is only capable of driving autonomously in highway situations. When approaching complex city environments, for example, the driver is requested via multiple warning signals to take control of the vehicle to ensure proper safety.

The A7 concept will be on show this week at CES, the same event where in previous years Audi demonstrated a vehicle that could crawl through traffic by itself and another that could park itself. At this year’s event, the brand with the four rings will also show off new connected car technology, new user and display interfaces, and new sound and lighting technologies. Head to our dedicated hub for more CES coverage.


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