Safety, comfort and efficiency: The assistance systems of Audi

Cause and effect

Today, Audi is already offering assistance systems that not only revolutionize the driving experience but are also a clear pointer to the future of mobility.
Recently, Audi has provided repeated snapshots of what piloted driving holds in store.

“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.”

Audi turn assist: Within the system parameters, turn assist monitors oncoming vehicles on the opposite side of the road when the driver is about to turn left. If the system recognizes a critical situation during the turn maneuver, it automatically actuates the brakes. The system is enabled as soon as the driver switches on the indicator and the vehicle is traveling at a speed of between around two and ten kilometers per hour.
Audi traffic jam assist: Between speeds of zero and around 60 kilometers per hour, traffic jam assist gives the driver semi-automatic distance control — for instance, in slow-moving traffic. Within specific system parameters, the system recognizes lane markings as well as vehicles in the same lane, lending assistance in steering, accelerating and braking. At speeds of over around 60 kilometers per hour, Audi active lane assist helps the driver stay in lane.
Predictive efficiency assist: In conjunction with the MMI Navigation plus with MMI touch, adaptive cruise control harnesses data from predictive efficiency assist to adjust speed in an anticipatory manner. Within the system parameters, it uses information on curve radii, transitions into urban areas and speed limits stored in the navigation system to do so. Data from camera-based road sign recognition technology is also assimilated. While in addition predictive efficiency assist selectively controls engine thrust and coasting phases, which can make for more fuelsaving driving, the control of the vehicle remains firmly in the driver’s hands.
Equally unobtrusive but always at the ready?  

Meet turn assist. It monitors oncoming traffic when the driver is preparing to execute a left turn. In the new Audi Q7, the system becomes active when the indicator is switched on and, if necessary, slows the car down to a complete standstill in its lane in case the driver has overlooked an oncoming vehicle. “We’ve all been there before: You want to make a left turn but can’t properly judge the oncoming traffic because you’re blinded by the winter sun sitting low on the horizon. In those kinds of situations, the system will automatically brake if need be,” says Thomas Müller.

 

Rear cross-traffic assist works in a similar way but under different conditions. On the Audi A4 and Audi Q7, this technology alerts the driver when the parking system is activated and the car is reversing slowly, for instance, out of a parking space set at a 90-degree angle to the road into oncoming traffic. Warnings of increasing urgency are provided — starting with a visual alert on the MMI display, followed by an acoustic signal and finally, if necessary, a short warning jolt.

 

With predictive efficiency assist, the brand with the four rings has unveiled a world first. By autonomously regulating the preprogrammed speed in line with the specific conditions of the route ahead, fuel consumption can be reduced by up to ten percent, for instance, on country roads. The system interfaces with adaptive cruise control, the navigation system and camera-based road sign recognition technology and can pre-emptively respond to the data generated there on route topology, intersections, rotaries and speed limits. “Until now, if the ACC was set to cruise at 100 kilometers per hour, the driver had to manually adjust the speed limit to 50 kilometers per hour when entering a built-up area. The innovation now makes that intervention superfluous because, within the parameters, the system stays one step ahead and can automatically reduce the vehicle’s speed well in advance based on the route information. And when traveling on the German autobahn, for example, the system keeps the needle hovering at the recommended speed of 130 kilometers per hour. At the moment, there’s no other technology in the world to match it,” says Thomas Müller.

Since the required data isn’t available for all countries — and even the information in, for example, Germany and the U.S. isn’t 100 percent accurate — predictive efficiency assist doesn’t work everywhere yet. But the Audi engineers are on the job. And until everything is in place, the developers have restricted this technology, as is the case with other assistance systems, to a supporting role, at the same time ensuring that the driver is clearly made aware of this. Thomas Müller adds, “The real world is extremely complex. That’s why we have to keep emphasizing that we’re still only at the assisted driving stage.”

 

On the cordoned-off testing grounds, Audi has already advanced piloted driving much further. As the four rings’ trial cars are put through their paces, the systems are learning more and more with each circuit of the track and their algorithms are continually fine-tuned and improved. There’s still a way to go before they pass muster and can function automatically without a hitch in complex traffic scenarios. After all, tomorrow’s piloted cars from Audi will ultimately also need to be customizable to their drivers’ personal driving preferences. “The more automated our cars become, the more important it is for them to drive exactly as their owner would,” says Thomas Müller.

 

Patrick Morda & Hermann J. Müller (text)

More on the topic:

In addition to the standard equipment in its cars, Audi also offers a wealth of optional assistance systems that further enhance comfort, safety and efficiency. In the new Audi A4 and Audi Q7, various assistance systems are suitably matched and bundled together in the City, Tour and Parking packages.

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