In piloted driving, Audi is at the peak of progress in the automotive industry. Over the next several years, the brand will gradually introduce its new technologies into production, step-by-step. At CES Asia, the company is demonstrating the high maturity level of its technology with a prototype – a piloted driving Audi A7 Sportback. Journalists can ride along in the vehicle over an approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) route through Shanghai that starts and ends near the trade fair site.
The test vehicle utilizes various production and near-production sensors. The longrange radar sensors of the adaptive cruise control (ACC) system monitor the zones in front of the car. A near-production laser scanner is mounted in the Singleframe grille. The sensors provide redundant information on stationary and moving objects they detect during the piloted drive. A high-resolution video camera by partner Mobileye, a prototype for a future generation of such devices, offers a wide-angle view in front of the car.
Piloted driving in traffic jams
The function for piloted driving in traffic jams, which Audi is currently developing, is based on radar-supported adaptive cruise control (ACC) including traffic jam assist that will launch on the market in the new Q7. The system offers relief to drivers in dense highway traffic by handling steering tasks between 0 and 60 km/h (37.3 mph), and it accelerates and brakes autonomously. When the traffic jam pilot reaches its specified limits, such as when the traffic jam resolves itself, or the end of a divided highway is reached, the system prompts the driver to take control of the vehicle again. If the driver does not do this, the system safely brings the car to a stop.
In the future system for piloted driving, the radar sensors will remain an important component of the sensor array. They will acquire information from the zone in front of the car as they do today. A video camera with a wide angle lens detects the lane markings as well as pedestrians and objects, such as other vehicles and guard rails. Up to twelve ultrasonic sensors are used to monitor the immediate space around the car.
A new member of the sensor array is the laser scanner – it delivers highly precise data on objects at a distance of up to 80 meters (262.5 ft). Its laser diode emits nearly 100,000 infrared light pulses per second that are invisible to the human eye.
The control unit computes a surroundings profile from the light reflections. The laser scanner covers a range of 145 degrees on four vertical levels. Because of its wide aperture angle, it can detect vehicles that are merging in front of the car very early on. It also operates in the dark without any limitations. It can detect any objects – including those that exhibit a uniform pattern, such as fences, or objects that do not have any visible texture such as white walls.
Piloted driving related to parking
Parking maneuvers in tight situations are uncomfortable – in many perpendicular parking spaces or in tight parking garages drivers can often only enter or exit the car with difficulty. Piloted parking from Audi will let drivers exit the vehicle and conveniently control the car remotely with the remote key fob or a smartphone. To acquire information about the environment, the system utilizes twelve ultrasonic sensors, four top view cameras and a laser scanner. This produces redundant verification of the parking process.
The parking pilot offers the piloted parking function to the driver when the environmental sensors detect a suitable parking space or a garage. When drivers get out of the car, they only need to press the relevant button on their key fob or smartphone to initiate the process. Drivers are still responsible for the entire parking process until the car is stopped. The system requires that the vehicle key be located in the immediate vicinity of the car, so that the driver can evaluate the situation at all times.
If the on-board sensors detect obstacles in the driving corridor during piloted parking, the parking process is stopped immediately. Central locking is in the locked state throughout the piloted parking process. When the parking position is reached, the engine is shut off, and the car is secured against rolling. The driver gets a confirmation message. Retrieving the car from the garage or parking space is just as easy.
In 2013, Audi demonstrated piloted parking in its full functionality for the first time. The car was parked at the entrance of a parking structure, and the parking process was activated by smartphone. The driver could later use an app to retrieve the vehicle or schedule a specific time for the vehicle to be available at the exit.
Core technology: central driver assistance control unit (zFAS)
The central driver assistance controller, or zFAS, is the core component of future systems for piloted driving under development at Audi.
Audi conceptualized this central control unit, which will be introduced to the model line-up in stages, together with leading international technology partners that include TTTech, Mobileye, Nvidia and Delphi. Delphi will be the future system supplier.
At the moment, most driver assistance systems are managed by spatially separated controllers. Audi is the first automaker to merge the range of functions, required sensors, electronic hardware and software architecture into a central domain architecture. In this development, maximum attention was given to the safety concept. A wide range of sensor information is merged in the zFAS. The controller uses this data to instantly compute a complete model of the vehicle surroundings, and it provides this information to all assistance systems.
A high level of computing power in a compact package requires high-performance electronic components. The zFAS board is equipped with both the EyeQ3 mobile processor from Mobileye and the new Tegra K1 from Nvidia. The computing performance that is attained is equivalent to that of the entire electronics architecture of a well-equipped mid-size car. The high integration level makes it possible to package the Audi central controller in the compact size of a tablet PC. Thanks to its modular concept it can be scaled flexibly and is therefore prepared for the future in every respect.
Audi is also working with leading suppliers such as Bosch, Continental, Valeo and Delphi in the area of sensors and actuators – such as those used in brake and steering systems. The objective is to develop common standards and offer customers advanced driver assistance systems for greater safety, comfort and convenience on the road to fully automatic driving.
Piloted driving: the success story
Audi has been working on preparing the groundwork for piloted driving for many years now. The brand has demonstrated its technical progress in many spectacular appearances.
2009: Bonneville Salt Flats – four rings on a salt lake
In autumn 2009, a driverless TTS took on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the US state of Utah – the coupe followed precise turns to carve the brand's four rings logo onto the salt lake. It also set a new speed record for piloted driving cars of 130 mph (approx. 210 km/h). The technology platform was dubbed “Shelley” as a tribute to former Audi rally car driver Michèle Mouton.
Its specific data technology was developed jointly by Audi, Volkswagen and the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory (VAIL) at Stanford University in California.
2010: piloted up the mountain – the Pikes Peak climb
In 2010, the piloted “Shelley” car conquered the legendary mountain race course on Pikes Peak in the US state of Colorado. The test vehicle needed around 27 minutes to complete the 20 km (12.4 mi) course with its 156 curves. It navigated via differential GPS, which offers precision down to just a few centimeters.
2012: dynamic piloted driving at the Thunderhill Race Track
In 2012, Audi garnered its initial experience with the Audi TTS on a race track – the Thunderhill Race Track north of Sacramento, California. The lap time on the roughly three-mile (nearly five kilometers) course was under 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The tests were focused on how a piloted driving car handles under high loads and extreme conditions.
2013: piloted driving in Nevada
In 2012, Audi became the first automaker to ever receive a permit to operate piloted driving cars in public traffic – from the authorities of the US state of Nevada. In January 2013 and 2014, the brand presented new systems for piloted driving in traffic jams and for piloted parking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
2014: piloted driving in Florida and California
The brand with the four rings once again became the first automaker to be granted a test license for piloted driving – this time in Florida. In summer 2014, Audi accomplished another first – it was the first automaker to take government representatives and journalists on a public test drive on an expressway near Tampa. In the autumn, this was followed by the first test license to be granted under new regulations in the US state of California.
Piloted driving can be highly dynamic and passionate, as Audi showed in autumn 2014 – with a demonstration drive on the Hockenheimring. At the season finale of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) race series, the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept took a lap around the circuit track at race pace. Its developers called it “Bobby” – a thank-you to Robert William “Bobby” Unser, who won the mountain race up Pikes Peak in an Audi Sport quattro.
The Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept car used for the demo drive, with its 412 kW (560 hp) of power, was largely the same as the production-level vehicle. Differential GPS signals transferred by Wi-Fi and high frequency radio were used to navigate the 4.6 km (2.9 mi) circuit with 17 curves. In parallel, fast image processing software compared real-time 3D camera images with image information stored on-board.
The world’s sportiest piloted driving car followed a highly precise race line in completing the lap – full throttle on the straights, precisely-timed brake activations before curves, precise steer-in and perfectly metered throttling at curve exits. Braking forces were over 1.3 g, and lateral acceleration in curves reached 1.1 g. The car’s top speed was 240 km/h (149.1 mph), and its lap time was just over two minutes – comparable to the performance of a race car driver.
2015: Silicon Valley – Las Vegas
As part of CES 2015, Audi once again put the high maturity level of its future technologies for piloted driving to the test. A long-distance test drive with the Audi A7 piloted driving concept car – named “Jack” – was made from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas. Journalists experienced live, in the driver’s seat, how the prototype proved its capabilities under everyday highway driving conditions over a distance of 560 miles (just around 900 km). The A7 piloted driving concept performed lane changes and overtaking maneuvers autonomously, and it accelerated and braked autonomously.
Piloted driving in China: the Audi strategy
At Audi, developments in piloted driving have so far focused on the USA and Europe. But Chinese road traffic poses its own special challenges for automated driving functions. This is attributable in part to differences in driving behavior of traffic participants, but it is also due to the structure of the road network, in which urban freeways and regular streets are laid out directly above one another over long distances.
To offer driver assistance systems that are appealing to Chinese drivers as well, Audi launched a project at its R&D Center in Beijing in cooperation with Tongji University in Shanghai. They developed solutions for specific local driving situations in China. The project is part of a strategy for solving specific local challenges and testing them in local road traffic. Audi has been pursuing this strategy in the USA with great success for many years now. The brand’s appearance at CES Asia represents the initial results of the company’s collaboration in China.
The equipment, data and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice; errors and omissions excepted.