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The Hidden Partner in Audi's Driverless Car Revolution

By Austin Smith - Jan 12, 2014 at 3:00PM

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“Piloted driving” isn't driverless, but it's a first step and it's coming soon.

Get a glimpse of what's on the tech horizon with Foolish reports from the field at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show. Companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 businesses launch and showcase thousands of products at the event, which attracts visitors from around the world.

Fully automated driverless cars may still be a way off, but Audi is moving in that direction with "piloted driving" -- technology that makes driving more comfortable, while still requiring a human behind the wheel.

Thanks to an uncanny ability to identify key trends in technology, David Gardner has established a market-thumping track record. Investors have seen a slew of storylines coming out of CES 2014, but the real challenge is recognizing where the opportunities truly lie. Click here to get David's latest thinking on where you should be invested to profit on the future of technology.

A full transcript follows the video.

Austin Smith: Hi. Austin Smith here at the floor of the CES. Here to talk about piloted driving and, in particular, Audi's work with piloted driving.

Now, you guys have been working on piloted driving technology for the last few years. This seems like something that a lot of car buyers out there have been seeing and anticipating. When do you think that this sort of technology becomes economically feasible and we'll start to see it in production vehicles?

Audi Representative: As you see, the message that we want to transfer with the CES is that we are definitely working on transferring that into serious production, and that we are shrinking, for example, ECUs [engine control units] in order to make that possible.

Smith: What do you think the biggest current obstacles are to piloted driving becoming a mass available technology to people? Is it regulations? Is it the cost of the technology? What is preventing that leap to mass adoption?

Audi Representative: First, the question regarding the costs. How we address the topic is to think about and to implement functionality which is affordable, for the first step.

For sure you can imagine about very sophisticated, fully autonomous driving without any driver anymore; this is much more cost intensive, but this is not our goal. We want to do the first step, which could be a short-term solution, and available for the customer.

An important obstacle, besides all the technical issues that remain, is for sure the regulations. There is some stuff -- like what we call "piloted driving" -- that will be available very soon. The real piloted driving, in the traffic jam, there are some regulations. You might be familiar with, that in the U.S., there are some regulations with respect to test activities, but there are no regulations about the regular usage at all.

Smith: For the consumers of the world, what should we look at to know piloted driving is just around the corner? Is it looking at Audi's vehicle lineup? What will be the big sign to us that it's here, that it's coming, that piloted driving is now suddenly going to be available for the masses?

Audi Representative: It will take a couple of years, and then simply check the newest model that we offer.

Smith: When we start seeing cars without drivers, I guess, then it will be obvious!

Audi Representative: Yeah, but as I mentioned the first step will be simply ... there is still a driver inside. There are some scenarios in which you can make the driving more comfortable, but the driver still will be there.

Smith: Thank you for your time. One last question; from a technical perspective, obviously just a huge amount of processing power and technology that has to go into these vehicles to make this possible.

What other companies, be they technology companies or manufacturers, do you see as really integral to this shift to piloted driving?

Audi Representative: You mean which companies will contribute on our work?

Smith: Yes, particularly for Audi, so Google (GOOGL 2.39%) Maps ... who is really integral to this mass adoption of piloted driving?

Audi Representative: What we for sure need to work with are the No. 1 companies in the semiconductor markets, such as NVIDIA (NVDA 4.28%).

We announced in our press conference today that we cooperate with NVIDIA on that. We have a semiconductor program, in order to be not only on the leading edge, but always to push the bleeding edge forward, in order to have all those -- as you mention -- requirements with respect to more power in order of computing requirements.

Smith: That's wonderful. Thank you so much for your time.

Audi Representative: You're welcome.

Austin Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Google and NVIDIA and owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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