America’s longest autonomous drive—from California to New York—starts this weekend

Hands-free mode.
Hands-free mode.
Image: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
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What does it take to drive from San Francisco to New York? For most people, such a trip requires only the will and a wallet fat enough to pay for fuel. For six engineers at Delphi, an auto-parts makers, it will mean four radars, three cameras, six lidars, a localization system, and absolutely no hands.

On March 22, Delphi will flag off a modified Audi SUV on a 3,500-mile (5,600-km) fully-automated cross-country trip, making it the longest ever driverless journey attempted in North America. Six engineers will travel along with the car, gathering data.

The car will be subject to a wide range of conditions, both in terms of weather and terrain, helping developers understand how such a vehicle performs out in the real world. It will arrive reach the East Coast in early April, in time for the New York Auto Show, according to Bloomberg.

Unlike the big carmakers, Delphi isn’t interested in selling automated cars. The firm’s business is in selling auto electronics to carmakers, so the high-profile test is more about development and creating new technologies than the complete package. The car will only drive itself on highways; an engineer will take over on smaller roads.

It is expected to produce some 2 terabytes of data on the trip, according to Bloomberg. That is about the same as half a million songs.