In piloted driving, Audi has earned a place at the top in the automobile industry – the brand will soon be introducing its new technologies to production cars in stages. The Audi e-tron quattro concept car is showing two of these technologies at CES: piloted driving in a traffic jam and piloted parking.
Audi technologies for piloted driving are based on the principles of safety, time savings, efficiency and convenience. The systems can make a valuable contribution toward safety, especially when the driver is either overwhelmed or underwhelmed by driving tasks. When used to temporarily assume some of the tasks of driving, the predictive technology makes driving more efficient, reduces stress and enhances comfort. In addition, it gives drivers greater freedom in how they organize their time in the car.
Piloted driving in traffic jams
The functionality of piloted driving in traffic jams, which Audi is currently developing, builds upon the radar-supported adaptive cruise control (ACC) including traffic jam assist, which arrived on the market in the new Audi Q7 in early 2015. The radar sensors are an important component of the sensing system – they acquire data on the zone in front of the car. A video camera with a wide-angle aperture localizes 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.
New to the array of sensors is the laser scanner – it delivers highly precise data 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 controller computes a profile of the surroundings from the light that is reflected back.
The laser scanner covers a zone of 145 degrees on four levels. Because of its wide aperture angle, it can detect other vehicles that are weaving into the lane ahead very early. It also works in the dark without any limitations.
Piloted driving for parking
Parking maneuvers in tight situations make drivers uncomfortable – it is often very difficult for the driver to get into and out of the car in many perpendicular parking spaces and in tight garages. With piloted parking from Audi, the driver will be able to get out of the car beforehand and conveniently have the car park itself in a parking space or exit it by remote control, such as via a smartphone app. To acquire information about the surroundings, the system uses twelve ultrasonic sensors, four top cameras and – in some situations – a laser scanner. This assures redundant sensory support of the parking process. The driver can select the piloted parking function as soon as the environmental sensors detect a suitable parking space or garage. After drivers exit their vehicles, they can execute the parking procedure by remote control. The driver remains responsible for the parking process until the car comes to a safe stop. As a second means of verification, the system requires that the vehicle key be in the immediate vicinity of the car so that the driver can assess the situation at all times.
If the on-board sensors detect obstacles in the driving corridor during piloted parking, the car is stopped automatically. When the parked position is reached, the engine is shut off and the car brake is set to prevent roll-away. The driver gets a confirmation message. The process for exiting a garage or parking space is similar, but the engine is still running at the end of the process.
In 2013, Audi demonstrated piloted parking in a parking structure for the first time. The car was stopped at the entrance to the parking structure, and the parking process was activated by smartphone. Using an app, the driver could later request the car or order it to be at the exit at a specific time.
Core technical component: the central driver assistance controller (zFAS)
The core component for future piloted driving systems will be the central driver assistance controller, known as the zFAS. Audi conceptualized this central control unit – which will soon be introduced step-by-step into the model lineup – together with partners who are international technology leaders, such as TTTech, Mobileye, NVIDIA and Delphi. Delphi will assume the role of future system supplier.
At the moment, most driver assistance systems are managed by a number of individual, spatially isolated controllers. Audi has consolidated the array of functions, necessary sensors, electronic hardware and software architecture into a central domain architecture. The safety concept was given top priority in its development. A wide range of information from sensors comes together in the zFAS. The controller uses this information to compute a complete model of the vehicle surroundings extremely quickly, and it provides this information to all of the assistance systems.
Its tremendous computing power in a compact package requires high-performance electronic chips. The zFAS board is equipped with both the EyeQ3 mobile processor from Mobileye and the new Tegra K1 from NVIDIA. The computing power that it can deliver matches that of the entire electronics architecture of a well-equipped mid-class car. Thanks to the high degree of integration, the Audi board is no larger than a tablet PC.
Audi is also working with leading suppliers such as Bosch, Continental, Valeo and Delphi on the sensors and actuating elements for piloted driving such as braking and steering systems. The objective is to develop common standards and offer customers modern driver assistance systems for greater safety, comfort and convenience on the road to fully automatic driving.
In the near future, Audi is planning to give Audi connect the ability to learn continually while driving. The data computed by the zFAS board will be transferred to an IT backend via the cellular phone network – where available via LTE and in the future LTE Advanced. The data are then processed with intelligent algorithms and sent back to the car. In this way, the zFAS board will continuously extend its capabilities so that it can master complex situations increasingly better. Piloted cars from Audi thus learn more every day and with each new situation they experience.
Piloted driving: a success story
Audi has been conducting pioneering work in piloted driving for many years. The brand has demonstrated its technical progress in many spectacular appearances.
2009: Bonneville Salt Flats – the 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 carved the brand’s four rings by driving precise curves on the salt lake. It also set a new speed record for piloted driving cars of 130 mph (approx. 210 km/h). In tribute to former Audi rally driver Michèle Mouton, the test platform was dubbed “Shelley.” Its specific data technology was developed jointly by Audi and the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory (VAIL) at Stanford University in California.
2010: Piloted on the mountain – the climb up Pikes Peak
In 2010, the piloted driving “Shelley” conquered the legendary mountain race course on Pikes Peak in the US state of Colorado. The test vehicle took around 27 minutes to complete the 20 km (12.4 mi) course with its 156 curves. The car navigated by differential GPS, which is accurate to within just a few centimeters.
2012: Piloted driving – dynamic performance at the Thunderhill Race Track
This year, Audi gained its first piloted driving experience on a race track in a TTS – at 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 behaves at high loads and under extreme conditions.
2013: Piloted driving in Nevada
In 2012, authorities in the US state of Nevada made Audi the world’s first automaker to receive a permit to operate piloted driving cars in public traffic. 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
In Florida, the brand with the four rings once again received the first test license for piloted driving. In summer 2014, Audi – once again a pioneer – conducted a test drive on public expressways near Tampa with government representatives and journalists on board. This was followed, in autumn, by the first test license to be issued in the US state of California – in the framework of new regulations.
Piloted driving can be highly dynamic and passionate, as Audi proved in autumn 2014 with a demonstration drive on the Hockenheimring race track. In the season finale of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM), the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept completed a lap at race speed. Its developers called it “Bobby” – a thank-you to Robert William “Bobby” Unser, who won the 1986 Pikes Peak mountain race in an Audi Sport quattro.
The Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept, with 412 kW (560 hp) of power that completed the demo drive was for the most part identical to the production car. The world’s sportiest piloted driving car completed its lap while driving a highly precise race line – with full throttle on the straights, point-precise braking before bends, precise turn-in response and ideally metered throttle as it exited a curve. In braking, forces exceeded 1.3 G; it attained lateral acceleration values of up to 1.1 G in curves; its top speed was 240 km/h (149.1 mph), and it achieved a lap time of just over two minutes.
2015: Silicon Valley to Las Vegas
In the framework of CES 2015, Audi once again put the high development level of its future piloted driving technologies to the test. A long-distance test drive with the Audi A7 piloted driving concept – known as “Jack” – led from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas. Journalists experienced live on the driver’s seat how the prototype proved its capabilities over the 560 mile (approx. 900 km) highway journey under everyday driving conditions. The A7 piloted driving concept executed lane changes and passing maneuvers autonomously, and it accelerated and braked on its own.
At the first annual CES Asia, journalists stepped aboard an Audi A7 piloted driving concept near the show site and covered a route of around 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) through Shanghai. The test platform impressively mastered the challenges of the complex road traffic in China’s mega cities.
2015: Sonoma Raceway
On one of the world’s most challenging race tracks, the Sonoma Raceway in California, the latest generation of the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept has once again surpassed previous top performances. The fast coupe named “Robby” completed the 4,050 meter (2.5 mi) long course driving hard and with uniform precision at the limits of the laws of physics.
At the FAST Parcmotor race track in Barcelona, another challenging course, “Robby” gave further proof of Audi’s dynamic competence in piloted driving. The high-performance coupe set another record, logging a best time of 2 minutes, 7.67 seconds for the 4,200 meter (2.5 mi) long course. International journalists had a chance to experience the drive as passengers.
Greater safety: Standard systems
Today, many assistance systems are already available in production cars such as attention assist. It warns drivers when there are any indications that they are starting to lose concentration. Other standard features are the hold assist, cruise control, adjustable speed limiter, rear parking system and the safety systems Audi pre sense basic and Audi pre sense city.
The Audi pre sense basic system networks the different vehicle systems. Once it detects an unstable driving condition, it initiates preventive measures to protect the occupants. The front seat belts are electrically tensioned, and the windows and the sunroof are closed. The hazard flashers are also activated.
At speeds up to 85 km/h (52.8 mph) Audi pre sense city observes the road for other road users (e.g. vehicles and pedestrians). For this purpose, it uses the standard-equipped front camera on the windshield, which can capture events up to a distance of about 100 meters (328.1 ft). If there is risk of a collision, it warns the driver in stages (warning, warning jolt and automatic emergency braking); if necessary, it initiates full braking. At speeds of up to 40 km/h (24.9 mph), accidents can be significantly avoided within system limits; at higher speeds (up to 85 km/h (52.8 mph)) the speed at impact is reduced.
If the collision is inevitable, the multicollision brake assist system uses controlled braking maneuvers during the accident to aid the driver. This can help to prevent the car from skidding, which in turn avoids additional collisions.
Audi pre sense front
The Audi pre sense front safety system helps to avoid front-end collisions and minimize the severity of their consequences. In a dangerous situation, the system prompts the driver to apply the brakes according to a complex warning concept – with visual and acoustic signals as well as a braking jolt. Should the driver not respond, autonomous partial deceleration first occurs and then full deceleration – provided that the vehicle in front is in motion. Here too the system tensions the seat belts and initiates the actions of pre sense basic. Audi pre sense front remains functional even when ACC is switched off.
Adaptive cruise control
Among the optional systems, adaptive cruise control (ACC) plays the main role. It maintains a specified distance to the vehicle ahead. The driver can set this distance and the control dynamics over several stages. The system, which primarily uses the two front radar sensors, covers the full speed range from 0 to 250 km/h (155.3 mph). Its Stop&Go function brakes the car to a full stop and lets it start off again automatically at the driver’s request. Even if the ACC is deactivated, starting at 60 km/h (37.3 mph) it shows the distance to the vehicle ahead and warns the driver if the gap closes too much.
Traffic jam assist
Over a speed range from 0 to 65 km/h (40.4 mph), traffic jam assist – another function belonging to the ACC – can also take over steering on well-paved roads, as long as the traffic is moving slowly. Drivers remain full responsibility for their cars and must keep their hands on the steering wheel. The system uses the radar sensors and the video camera. It guides the car with gentle steering interventions and follows the group of vehicles ahead within system limits. It orients itself to the lane markings and to the other vehicles on the road.
When traffic jam assist reaches its system limits – such as when the traffic jam clears or there is a tight curve ahead – the driver must resume driving tasks.
The system informs the driver of this over several levels. If the driver ignores all of the requests, as a last measure it autonomously brings the car to a safe stop.
Predictive efficiency assist
Adaptive cruise control works in close coordination with MMI navigation plus, the camera-based traffic sign recognition system, and with predictive efficiency assist. It automatically adjusts the preselected speed to conditions – the route topography, speed limits and road users driving ahead.
Even if route guidance is inactive, predictive efficiency assist continues to use the route data to alert the driver about situations in which it is advisable to slow down. The system recognizes curves, traffic circles and intersections, downhill slopes, city limits and speed limit signs – in many cases long before the driver sees them. The instrument cluster or Audi virtual cockpit then displays an appropriate message. If the assistant screen is active, the relevant graphics are displayed.
If the driver wishes, the system can autonomously control freewheeling of the automatic transmission under certain conditions with regard to speed and driving pedal position. The car then coasts in neutral to the slower driving point. This coasting mode is only enabled if it can persist for more than just a few seconds. Once this mode ends, the car automatically accelerates back to the selected target speed if ACC is enabled. This highly networked intelligence lets predictive efficiency assist improve fuel economy by up to ten percent on country roads.
Audi active lane assist
From a speed of 65 km/h (40.4 mph), Audi active lane assist helps the driver to stay in the driving lane. It observes lane markings with a video camera. If the Audi approaches a lane marking without the driver operating the turn signal, the system assists the driver in staying in the lane by a gentle intervention in the electromechanical power steering system. The driver can choose whether to be assisted continuously or just shortly before crossing the lane markings. If the driver opts for early intervention, the system guides the car to the center of the lane. A steering wheel vibration is also configurable.
Collision avoidance assist
Collision avoidance assist assists the driver in driving around an obstacle and avoiding a potential accident. From the video camera and radar sensor data, it instantaneously computes a suitable track, taking the distance, width and offset of the preceding vehicle into account. Its first action is a warning jolt to alert the driver about the danger. Once the driver begins steering, the system uses automatic steering interventions in the power steering system to drive around the obstacle.
Turn assist monitors oncoming traffic when turning left at low speeds. In a hazardous situation, the assistant brakes the vehicle to a stop and avoids a collision with the oncoming traffic. The system is enabled at speeds of between two and ten km/h (1.2 – 6.2 mph) once the driver operates the turn signal to turn left.
Audi side assist
The Audi side assist lane-changing assistant aids the driver from a speed of 15 km/h (9.3 mph) when changing lanes, using two rear radar sensors that measure up to a range of about 70 meters (229.7 ft). If a vehicle is located in the blind spot or is approaching critically, a warning LED in the housing of the relevant exterior mirror lights. If the driver still operates the turn signal, the LED flashes brightly several times in succession.
The Audi side assist is coupled with the Audi pre sense rear system, which initiates preventive protective measures in case of an impending rear-end collision. It also runs in the background when Audi side assist is deactivated, except during trailer operation.
Rear cross-traffic assist
Rear cross-traffic assist utilizes the rear radar sensors. If the parking system is activated, it warns the driver of other vehicles detected as potential critical threats while driving slowly in reverse – such as when pulling out of a perpendicular parking space. The driver is warned in stages – visually on the MMI monitor, acoustically and, if necessary, with a warning jolt.
Exit warning assist
Exit warning assist comes into play once the car has stopped. Should vehicles or bicycles now approach from behind, the system warns the driver and all passengers when they start to open a door. The system uses the LED light guides of the lighting package. In a situation recognized as hazardous, special LEDs flash and light up red. Exit warning functionality remains in a state of readiness for about three minutes after the ignition is switched off.
Trailer maneuver assist
In the Audi Q7, the driver can activate trailer maneuver assist when performing maneuvers in reverse with a trailer. Then all the driver needs to do is shift to R and carefully operate the accelerator pedal. The driver can use the rotary/push-button control in the MMI to variably set the angle to which the trailer should be driven. To travel in a straight line, the driver taps once on the control. The image from the rear view camera on the MMI monitor shows auxiliary lines that serve as a guide. Trailer maneuver assist turns the steering wheel and guides the trailer along the selected course with stability.
A rotating sensor in the trailer coupling serves as the technical basis of the trailer maneuver assist – it senses the articulation angle between towing vehicle and the trailer. Trailer maneuver assist allows a driving speed of up to ten km/h (6.2 mph). If the articulation angle is too large, the system emits a warning, and brakes in case of an emergency.
Park assist steers the car nearly autonomously into a parallel or perpendicular parking space – and can also exit from a parallel parking space – with the help of twelve ultrasonic sensors. They display different views of the car’s immediate surroundings on the MMI monitor, including a virtual bird’s eye view and 180-degree images of the front and rear zones. Such views are very helpful when driving out of driveways with poor visibility and in conjunction with rear cross-traffic assist.
Night vision assist
Night vision assist utilizes a long-range infrared camera. It reacts to the heat given off by objects. Converted to black and white images, the information can be viewed in the instrument cluster or Audi virtual cockpit. The cooler surroundings appear dark, while animals and people appear strikingly bright. The system, which has a visual range of up to 300 meters (984.3 ft), can detect people and larger wild animals at distances of up to around 100 meters (328.1 ft) and highlights them with yellow markings.
If a hazardous situation is detected, a warning sound is emitted. A warning symbol appears in the instrument cluster as well as in the optional head-up display. In combination with high beam assist or matrix LED headlights, the car illuminates the person outside of the car with three brief light pulses.