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Delphi thrilled with results from autonomous car's cross-country trip

Drivers Were Idle For More Than 98 Percent Of Vehicle's Journey

In the first trip across the United States ever made by an autonomous car, engineers from Delphi Automotive were surprised to learn that, in some cases, their vehicle behaved a lot like a human driver.

"The car was scared of tractor trailers," said Jeff Owens, the company's chief technology officer. "The car edged to the left just a little bit when it would pass trucks, and that was an interesting observation."

Engineers made hundreds of notes throughout the drive, as the autonomous car covered 3,400 miles through 15 states en route to a showcase near the New York Auto Show. Overall, company officials said the car performed better than anticipated in a variety of road and weather conditions.

In the course of the cross-country drive, drivers actually controlled the car only for about 50 miles, and those cases were limited to on-and-off ramps and the occasional construction zone where lanes were not marked or only sporadically marked.

The purpose of the trip was to glean information on how the autonomous car worked in a real-world environment. Google and others have tested autonomous cars and autonomous features in select real-world environments before, but Delphi's adventure was the first to trek into a test with such varied challenges over a nine-day trip that began near the Golden Gate Bridge on March 22.

There are some things the engineers have already learned, like the fact the camera systems had the occasional blip when the sun-angle was low. And there are some things to still be learned, as they pour over three terrabytes worth of data from cameras, radar and lidar sensors in the weeks ahead.

"It's going to take us a couple weeks to digest all this," Owens said. "But we had all the data from tests. It was time to put this on the road."

Built into an Audi SQ5, the vehicle was striking, if only for the fact it looked like a normal car. Many other autonomous vehicles have quirky sensors atop the roof or other features that make them stand out as experiments. Delphi arranged this one to look as much like a normal car as possible, right down to stowing an army of computers under cargo mats, so the rear contained as much trunk space as the production model.

If a fellow motorist didn't know where to look -- or take the time to notice the person in the driver's seat didn't have their hands on the wheel -- there was no reason to suspect this was anything other than a regular car.

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