The Cruise RP-1 Autopilot

July 26, 2014

Like it or not, the autonomous car is coming in some form or another. Barring obstacles such as driver liability and fear of relinquishing driving control, carmakers are working hard (and fast) to develop and refine self-driving vehicles.

It’s likely that within the next decade, many of them will be on American roads, perpetuating distractions such as texting, eating, singing, and shaving — only without the same potential for bodily harm.

Whether it’s in the marionette head design of the Google prototype or something more manly, expect the automotive landscape to change, potentially quite dramatically, in the coming years. But what if you want some degree of intervention now, especially for those long, tiresome and painfully mundane commutes?

Well, within the next year, you’ll be able to possess that technology — at least if you own a 2012 or newer Audi A4/S4 and live in California.

The Cruise RP-1 is the world’s first production highway autopilot system that’s essentially aftermarket, meaning it didn’t come as a driver-assist package like the Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive available on the S, E and C Class cars.

And though the RP-1 system isn’t a complete replacement for the driver, it evidences the fact that driver assist technology isn’t just for systems already integrated into vehicles at the point of manufacturing.

The RP-1 is composed of a roof-mounted Sensor Pod with sensors, radar and cameras that can detect vehicles, obstacles and lane markings.

The Sensor Pod sends that data to a trunk-mounted computer that uses state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms to tell the RP-1 system what to do — whether it’s keeping you in your lane or initiating the brakes to avoid a potential collision.

Motors adjacent to the steering wheel provide the necessary inputs to keep you on the straight and narrow, while a cockpit-mounted control knob enables you to take control of the vehicle at any time.

The RP-1’s radar detects the speed and direction of vehicles in your immediate surroundings, ensuring that you have ample room on your way down the road, and this also allows for the proper distance to come to a complete stop when problems arise.

The computer will signal the brakes to actuate and the steering motors to move you where you need to go. The RP-1 also understands its own limitations and will signal you to take over driving duties when absolutely necessary.