Thousands of automaker engineers around the world are furiously working right now to perfect cars that can drive themselves safely when necessary.
Meanwhile, a small independent San Francisco team under the leadership of Kyle Vogt, a dropout from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has developed a quicker solution.
Vogt's venture, Cruise Automation, has begun marketing the Cruise RP-1, an aftermarket system it claims can be installed on certain Audis as old as 2012 models to switch them into autopilot mode on highways.
Although efforts to reach the stealth-mode Vogt or his investors were unproductive, the company website claims Cruise has tailored its initial hardware to fit an Audi A4 or S4, at an installed cost of about $10,000.
The system uses a roof-mounted radar sensor pod and other detection hardware to relay autopilot instructions to a vehicle's steering, brakes and throttle systems, according to the company's website, getcruise.com.
The site claims the technology is ready for installation, but only for roads in California so far. And it stresses that drivers still will need to pay attention to the road.
As if addressing the image of big-time car companies spending billions to develop similar technology at the factory level, Cruise's website asks, "Why isn't this more expensive?"
The site's somewhat-fuzzy answer: "The RP-1 uses low-cost sensors and components that are already in use on many newer vehicles. We were able to reduce the price to be close to the cost of a technology or premium package on a new car."