Prior to this new announcement, only Google and automotive supplier Continental have been granted such licenses by the state of Nevada. Now, with Audi's inclusion in this extremely limited list, the world is looking one step closer to the autonomous roadways of I Am Robot and Minority Report.
For those not in the know, Audi didn't exactly luck into this license. To even be considered for Nevada's highly-exclusive red plate Audi had to submit one heck of an application package. Applicants must describe to the proper officials every last bit of tech used, the training of the "drivers" who will sit in the cars as they drive themselves around, and demonstrate the full capabilities of each car to be licensed. As well as submit documentation proving that the vehicle has already undergone a minimum of 10,000 miles worth of testing.
In Audi's case, some of those miles were racked up in Colorado on the famous Pike's Peak Hill Climb course. Back in 2010, Audi and a team of Stanford researchers sent an autonomous Audi TTS screaming up and down all 12.4 miles of the course. The car not only survived all 156 mountain turns, but it completed the course in just 27 minutes. Not bad for a car with nobody at the wheel.
As far as Audi's plans for autonomous vehicles, they don't actually encompass every moment of your morning commute. What you can expect from your eventual self-driving car is the ability to autonomously navigate stop-and-go road conditions and park itself. Everything else will still be your responsibility — for now.