Self-driving Audi A7 rolls up at CES

Audi demonstrates a self-driving car that parks itself while you shop, and trips the light fantastic with OLED headlights

Audi has been showing off its version of a self-driving car, in the car park of a Las Vegas casino.

It’s impressive stuff. The car carefully manoeuvres itself in and out of tight spaces, all without a sweaty, swearing driver. What’s more, the automatic automobile can be summoned with a smartphone app. It’s like KITT from Knight Rider, without David Hasselhoff or his luxuriant chest hair.

Unlike Google’s self-driving car, which has a spinning radar dish strapped to the roof in a throwback to the Cold War, Audi uses an A7 coupé that looks identical to the model sold in showrooms.

Instead, the upgraded A7 relies on a laser grid built in to the car park. Most of the number crunching is done by computers in the car park itself, guiding the A7 into the nearest available space.

The trade off is that it will only work in areas outfitted with the system, such as shopping centres. It’s essentially an invisible valet service. While it can’t take you on a tour of the French Riviera, the A7 could slalom round the Bluewater multi-storey like Jason Statham, without the handbrake turns.

The idea is you pull up at the front door of the shop, get out, and dispatch your car to find its own parking space. Later when you come out laden with bags, the car can be summoned using your smartphone. So, less James Bond than Jimmy Choo, but still a glimpse of what life will be like when robots take the driving seat.

Audi has also been dazzling show-goers with a light show straight out of Tron. Matrix LED headlights use built-in cameras and sensors to illuminate the road ahead. They can swivel to light up curves in the road, or automatically look downwards when they spot an oncoming driver, like a shy princess.

The Swarm is the car-maker's experiment with OLEDs, as used in expensive flatscreens. Transforming the entire rear-end of the car into one display, so-called 'swarms' of light flow around the bumpers, giving the cars behind a psychedelic insight into what the driver is planning. Thus when they turn right, the swarm bunches up at the right, while as the car accelerates, the lights speed up.

Clearly Audi hopes to turn the autobahn into a rolling Kraftwerk concert. Sounds good to us.

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