“Bobby,” the concept car based on the Audi RS 7 Sportback, tore around Germany’s Hockenheimring racetrack at up to 240 kilometers per hour — without a driver. Meanwhile in January, “Jack” traveled autonomously from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas and pushed the needle to 130 kilometers per hour on the German autobahn. Of course, these are still dress rehearsals for what’s to come. Even so, a wealth of features from the piloted driving technology still being developed and tested can already be experienced by Audi drivers today in the shape of optional assistance systems that considerably enhance safety, comfort and efficiency. Best of all, they’re finding their way into more and more of the four rings’ model families.
Take, for instance, traffic jam assist. Available in the new Audi A4 and Audi Q7, this is actually the new adaptive cruise control Stop&Go that incorporates traffic jam assist. When you hit a bottleneck, whether in town or on the highway, the system uses radar and ultrasound sensors coupled with the front camera to identify vehicles up ahead as well as in neighboring lanes. That takes a load off the driver when traveling at speeds of up to roughly 60 kilometers per hour. The car brakes and accelerates independently, all the while not only maintaining a safe following distance behind the vehicle in front but also gently correcting steering to ensure you stay in your lane. Thomas Müller, head of development of braking, steering and driver assistance systems at Audi, adds, “We at Audi make clear decisions about the level of automation. Assisted driving is one thing, piloted driving is an entirely different story. We all still have a way to go before fully piloted driving becomes reality. Until then, we’re following a strict policy that the driver does the driving and the system just helps outs.” This hard and fast rule is in place for all Audi assistance systems.
Which is not to say that traffic jam assist doesn’t already provide a major boost to safety and comfort in everyday driving. While drivers are still in control of their vehicles, navigating gridlock is far less stressful thanks to their electronic helpers. “The system is still too new for us to be able to compile proper statistics. But I can confidently say from personal experience that it takes a lot of the pressure off.”With emergency assist integrated, traffic jam assist also provides an additional safety net. If, for instance, the driver suffers a medical emergency while stuck in slow-moving traffic and can no longer operate the vehicle, the system registers that no input has been received from the steering wheel and pedals for a period of time. Initially, a series of warning signals are issued. If there is still no response after an alert sounds, the car will be automatically brought to a complete standstill. “We’re currently in the process of learning how to better network comfort and safety functions going forward. Expect the systems in future generations of Audi cars to be able to do even more.”As soon as the traffic jam assist system reaches its limits, such as when the traffic thins out or there is a sharp bend ahead, the system no longer provides support after allowing a sufficient leadtime in progressive stages.
Enhanced safety is also at the heart of avoidance assist. New models such as the Audi Q7 are equipped with this technology, which helps drivers to bypass obstacles that suddenly appear on the road. Sensor and camera data is used to calculate the best accident prevention strategy. Once again, the assistance system provides support while the person at the wheel remains firmly in the driver’s seat. As Thomas Müller points out, “If the driver steers in the wrong direction, the system will intervene and correct the car’s course. The same goes for steering maneuvers that are excessive or inadequate — the system compensates.”