This Audi TTS completed the Pikes Peak hill climb in 2010. Autonomously.

The vision of cars driving themselves is old hat. For decades, engineers and visionaries have promised that the autonomous car isn’t too far off. For the tech geeks among us, it’s a dream that’s nearing closer to reality with every day; others will see it as the death of driving as we know it. Whatever your opinion, automakers are working to make it a reality, and Audi is one of the leaders among them.

The Volkswagen Group’s premium brand has just acquired the state of Nevada’s second-ever license that allows testing of such vehicles on public roads. (The first license went to Google—you can read our own Aaron Robinson’s take on the tech giant’s development of autonomous motoring here.) Audi claims that it’s the first full-fledged automaker to receive such a license. But it still will be some time before you can actually get into your car, enter a destination, and immediately turn to checking emails, drinking coffee, and enjoying the scenery.

  • Comparison Test: Night Light—Night-Vision Systems Compared from BMW, Mercedes, and Audi
  • Instrumented Test: 2013 Audi S6
  • Comparison Test: 2012 Audi TT RS vs. 2011 BMW 1-series M Coupe, 2011 Infiniti IPL G Coupe

While the industry already has moved several steps in this direction with technologies such as radar-based cruise control, lane-departure warning, and even traffic-jam assist systems, there’s still a long way to go in terms of overall reliability. Self-driving cars need to operate at perfection, and they need to become more responsive than they are now. In 2010, an autonomously driven Audi TTS scaled Pikes Peak in 27 minutes—that’s 156 turns spanning 12.42 miles. Impressive, sure, but Rhys Millen set the world record last summer with a time under 10 minutes.

2013 Consumer Electronics Show full coverage

By Jens Meiners