GILLINGHAM, England — Self-driving cars are taking another step toward reality with supplier Delphi Automotive about to kick off what it calls the "longest automated drive ever attempted in North America."
The 3,500-mile road trip will begin near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco on March 22 in a specially outfitted Audi SQ5 SUV. The drive will end in New York City just before the 2015 New York Auto Show in April.
The goal is to gather real-world data about self-driving cars and their components, including wireless connected-vehicle technology and lidar, a laser mapping technology.
"Delphi had great success in testing its car in California and on the streets of Las Vegas," said Jeff Owens, Delphi's chief technology officer, in a statement. "Now it's time to put our vehicle to the ultimate test by broadening the range of driving conditions."
Delphi said the drive will expose the car and crew to "a variety of driving conditions from changing weather and terrain to potential road hazards — things that could never truly be tested in a lab."
While fully automated cars are not expected to hit showrooms until around 2020, many of the building-block systems will be rolling out to production vehicles in the next two or three years. They include traffic jam assist, automated highway pilot with lane change and automated parking and valet.
Delphi says it is working on "intelligent software that enables the vehicle to make complex, human-like decisions for real-world automated driving."
In the meantime, Delphi is encouraging some consumer participation in the historic effort.
"What are your favorite driving songs?" Delphi said in a tweet on Sunday. "Share them & we'll add them to our Delphi Drive coast-to-coast road trip playlist! #DelphiDrive."
Edmunds says: This will be one road trip to watch, since it foretells the future of car buying and driving.