Audi is working intensively on developing piloted driving. The Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept, dubbed Robby, bears testimony to the company´s progress.
Carved into the hills in California, the course is a four-kilometer roller-coaster ride of blind bends. Back in 2004, Marco Werner and his Audi R8 LMP set the record for the fastest racing lap here, with an average time of 178.06 kilometers per hour. There’s nothing ordinary about Robby, either. The next-generation Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept is a test car on the road to getting the technology ready for series production. In July, it set new standards on the Sonoma Raceway. Admittedly, it didn’t break Marco Werner’s record, but that wasn’t the point. Robby took its laps at an average of around 120 kilometers per hour — with absolute precision and nobody at the wheel. Its lap times were impressive: At 2:01.01 minutes, the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept was faster than many pro racers. Because the systems have become more advanced, it is about 400 kilograms lighter than Bobby, which significantly improves performance.
In October 2014, an Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept named Bobby drove laps on the Hockenheimring at up to 240 kilometers per hour with no driver. Early 2015 saw the Audi A7 Sportback piloted driving concept called Jack drive autonomously from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas on its way to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Jack has also performed test drives on the German autobahn, hitting up to 130 kilometers per hour.
Piloted driving stands for safety, time savings, efficiency and convenience. Especially if the driver faces conditions presenting too many or too few challenges, the system can make a valuable contribution to safety. This forward-looking technology makes driving even more efficient, reduces stress and boosts convenience by taking over the tasks for a while. Audi is working on the final touches to get this key technology ready for everyday use. It is based on state-of-the-art developments in sensors, data processing, vehicle control and stabilization. Some piloted driving functions will appear in the next-generation Audi A8, which is scheduled to hit the market in 2017. This will be the first series-production model to feature components of piloted driving: it can, when activated, handle the braking and accelerating involved in stop-and-go traffic at up to 60 kilometers per hour. It also boasts cameras and image processing software that register other cars passing or entering the lane and adapt the driving style to the situation.
Even now, the assistance systems in the new Audi A4 and Audi Q7 — both of which feature optional adaptive cruise control (ACC) stop & go including traffic jam assistant—are an indication of what this technology is capable of. In addition to automatically maintaining the desired distance from the car ahead, it also helps the driver stay in lane at speeds of up to 65 kilometers per hour.
The coming developments in piloted driving are explained by Audi engineer Peter Bergmiller.
Audi Magazine: Mr. Bergmiller, what is the difference between the traffic jam assistant in the new Audi A4 or Audi Q7 and piloted driving?
Peter Bergmiller: As its name says, the traffic jam assistant literally assists the driver — who, however, still has to steer to keep the car from drifting sideways. Piloted driving doesn’t just help the driver; it goes a step further.
Is piloted driving synonymous with autonomous driving?
No. Autonomous driving means that the car makes decisions on its own and does not require any intervention on the part of the driver. At Audi, however, we are concentrating on piloted driving. That means that under certain conditions and within a certain time frame, the car takes over the driving completely. But the driver must always be prepared to resume active driving.
Does piloted driving even work in the middle of the desert, for example, far from radio signals or any Internet connection?
Basically, our system doesn’t need any external information to move ahead safely. However, it only works in the environment the carmaker prepared it for. That means a system that was developed for the highway will only work on the highway. Otherwise it can’t be activated.
Could a piloted race car beat one driven manually?
Our goal is to remain just under the limit. We are developing a technology for series production. In addition to convenience, safety is our highest priority.
Laura Hamdorf (text), Angus Frazer (interview)