Audi pioneered piloted driving and has repeatedly documented technical progress in spectacular demonstrations. A TTS* without a driver grooved the brand’s four rings into the surface of a salt lake and sped up Pikes Peak in drift mode without a driver. On a race track, an RS 7 Sportback* with an empty driver’s seat drove at the limit of driving dynamics. Audi has demonstrated the next steps in piloted driving on public roads as well. The most recent highlight is a piloted journey spanning two day under real-life traffic circumstances on the highway from the West Coast all the way to Las Vegas.
Piloted driving in traffic jams
The function for piloted driving in traffic jams, which Audi is currently developing, builds on the Audi adaptive cruise control system including congestion assistance. In the future, the congestion assistant will provide support to the driver in slow-moving traffic on expressways, taking over the steering between 0 and 65 km/h (40.4 mph) and also automatically accelerating and braking. When the system reaches its limits, such as when the traffic jam dissolves or at the end of a divided highway, it will prompt the driver to take over the wheel again. Should he not do so, the system will bring the car into a state of minimum risk, that is to say to a standstill.
An important sensorics component is the radar system. Just as does the current adaptive cruise control with stop&go function, it will monitor the area ahead of the car A video camera with a wide angle of aperture detects the lane markings as well as pedestrians and objects, such as other vehicles and guard rails. Up to twelve ultrasonic sensors monitor the car’s perimeter.
A new addition to the sensor portfolio is the laser scanner, which delivers highly precise data at a distance of up to 80 meters (262.5 ft). Every second, its laser diode emits nearly 100,000 infrared light pulses invisible to the human eye. The controller computes a highly detailed perimeter profile from the light reflections. The laser scanner covers a 145-degree field on four levels.
The laser scanner has great strengths: thanks to its wide opening angle, it will very quickly detect cars merging in ahead. It is also fully functional in the dark and detect any kind of objects, even ones such as fences presenting a regular pattern or ones, such as white walls, that have no visible structure.
Piloted driving and parking
Parking maneuvers in tight situations are unpleasant – conventional parking spaces or narrow garages often make it difficult for the driver to get in and out of the car. Audi’s “parking pilot” system enables a drivers to get out of the car and park it remotely using the radio key fob or a smartphone. The system uses twelve ultrasound sensors, four top-view cameras and a laser scanner to monitor the car’s perimeter, securing the parking process with multiple redundancy.
As soon as the perimeter sensors detect a suitable parking space or garage, the parking pilot will offer the piloted parking function to the driver. If the driver then gets out of the car, all he or she needs to do is to press the key fob or the corresponding button on the smartphone to initiate the process, the driver retaining responsibility for the entire parking process until the car comes to a safe and complete stop.
The system requires the key to be in the immediate vicinity of the car, thus ensuring that the driver is close enough to the car to assess the situation at any time. If the car’s onboard sensors detect obstacles in the car’s path, the system will interrupt the parking process until the obstacle has been removed. The system will lock the car’s doors at the beginning of the parking process and maintain them locked until the car has reached its final position. On reaching its parking position, the system will shut down the engine, secure the car against unintentional motion and provide the driver with a confirmation message. Leaving the garage or parking space is just as simple.
Audi first demonstrated fully functional piloted parking in garages at 2013 CES. This involved dropping off a car at the entrance and using a smartphone to send it to its parking space. An app enabled the driver to retrieve it later or to select a time at which to pick up the car at the garage’s exit.
Functional centerpiece: the driver assistance master control unit (zFAS)
Today’s driver assistance systems mostly are managed by discrete controllers. In the future, Audi will deploy a centralized domain architecture in which all available sensor information converges in a central driver assistance controller (zFAS). This computes a comprehensive model of the car’s perimeter which is then served to all assistance and all piloted driving systems.
The zFAS board uses cutting-edge multi-core processors which taken together achieve a processing power equal to that of the entire electronical architecture of a well-equipped medium-segment automobile The new board currently is about the size of a tablet PC, but its form factor is set to shrink further. Its modular concept means the board is flexibly scalable and thus protected against obsolescence. Audi will introduce the central driver assistance control module to production along with the systems for piloted driving before the end of this decade.
Interaction with Audi connect enables Audi’s piloted cars to gather information while driving. The data generated by the zFAS is routed to an IT backend in the Cloud via the mobile phone network, using LTE where available. In the backend, the data is processed using machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms and then transmitted back to the car. The car thus continuously expands its ability to master complex situation. Every situation Audi’s piloted cars experience adds to their intelligence.
2015: Silicon Valley – Las Vegas
In conjunction with CES, Audi will demonstrate the advanced capabilities of its future technologies for piloted driving. The brand will be organizing a long-range journey involving the Audi A7 piloted driving concept completing a piloted voyage from Stanford in Silicon Valley to CES at Las Vegas. Participating journalists received appropriate training a few weeks ahead of the event at Volkswagen’s testing track in Arizona. Drivers will take turns on the trip from the West Coast to Las Vegas. A professional test driver from Audi will be sitting in the front passenger seat to provide added safety.
The journey is an event jointly organized by Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL), Volkswagen Group research and development and Audi. It consists of two day-long stages. Bakersfield, California, will serve as a midway stop. The journey will see the Audi A7 piloted driving concept covering a distance of more than 550 miles (round about 900 kilometers).
The system deployed in the A7 Sportback* represents the most recent level of technology and is capable of assisting a driver even in higher speed ranges. The car is capable of managing lane changes and overtaking, it can also automatically accelerate and brake. Before switching to the lane on the left or – as is permissible in the United States – on the right, the system will align the car’s speed with that of surrounding vehicles. If it determines that distance and available time are sufficient, it will initiate a swift and assured change of lanes.
This experimental vehicle uses various series and close-to-series sensors. The long-range radar sensors that are part of the adaptive cruise control (ACC) and Audi side assist (ASA) systems monitor the area ahead of the car and behind it. Two mid-range radar sensors at the front and rear, oriented left and right, complement the 360-degree surround vision. Laser scanners with close-to-series technology are installed in the singleframe grille and in the rear apron. They provide redundant information to facilitate fine-tuning of static and dynamic objects during piloted driving.
A high-resolution 3D video camera, a prototype of the upcoming device generation made by Audi’s partner Mobile Eye, looks ahead across a wide angle. Four small cameras at the front, the rear and in the side mirrors observe the car’s perimeter. Navigational data provides general orientation.
For safety reasons, when the system comes up against its limits – In urban areas, say – it will prompt the driver to press two keys on the multifunction steering wheel. This returns the driver to active control of the car’s longitudinal and lateral motion. The prompt is issued in due time before the car reaches the relevant zone.
Several warning signals act together in these cases: colored LEDs in the windshield base, messages in the driver information system and in a special display, the Central Status Indicator (CSI) and an acoustic prompt to take control. If the driver should ignore all these warnings, the system will activate the hazard flashers and bring the car into a status of minimum risk, in this case, standstill in its current lane.
Piloted driving can be extremely dynamic and thrilling, for example Audi’s demonstration drive on Hockenheimring speedway in the fall of 2014. At the season’s finale of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM), the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept completed a lap at racing speed without a driver present. Its designers named the car “Bobby,” a tribute to ex-Audi driver Robert William “Bobby” Unser who won at Pikes Peak, Colorado, in 1986.
The 412 kW (552 hp) Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept used in this demonstration had specifications broadly identical with series production. However, the car automatically controlled its electromechanical power steering, its brakes, its throttle valve and the eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearboxes feeding the power to the mechanical quattro drive.
This experimental vehicle used specially corrected GPS signals for orientation on the 4.6 kilometer (2.9 mi) track with its 17 turns. Accurate down to a centimeter, these differential GPS data were transmitted to the vehicle via automotive-standard WLAN and redundantly via high-frequency radio. In parallel, a rapid image-processing software constantly matched current 3D camera images with image information stored onboard.
Comprehensive networking and ultraprecise control of all systems relevant for driving allowed Audi’s engineers to drive this technology carrier to the limits of vehicle dynamics. The world’s sportiest piloted driving car completed its lap at Hockenheim following an extremely precise racing line, going full throttle on the straightaways, accurately braking ahead of curves, all with exact steering and perfectly measured accelerator actuation at the end of a curve. Deceleration forces exceeded 1.3 g, while lateral acceleration in curves was up to 1.1 g. Top speed was 240 km/h (149.1 mph), while lap time was just over two minutes, or about what it would be with a professional race driver at the wheel.
2014: piloted driving in Florida and California
Audi is rapidly expanding its competence in piloted driving in the USA. In Florida, the brand became the first vehicle manufacturer to be granted a testing license for piloted driving in this state. In the summer of 2014, the brand was once again the world’s first automobile maker to conduct a public test with government representatives and journalist on Lee Roy Selmon Expressway outside Tampa, Florida. In fall, the company obtained the first testing license under new regulations in California.
2013: Nevada and Las Vegas pioneer piloted driving
In 2012, Audi became first automobile maker to receive permission to operate piloted driving cars in public traffic from authorities in the US state of Nevada. In January 2013 and 2014, Audi unveiled new systems for piloted driving in traffic jams and for piloted parking at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
2012: piloted driving dynamics at Thunderhill Race Track
In 2012, Audi garnered its initial experience with the Audi TTS on a race track – 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 under high strain and in extreme conditions.
2010: piloted ascent – the Pikes Peak Climb
In 2010, “Shelley”, a piloted vehicle, completed the legendary Pikes Peak mountain race course in Colorado, USA. The Audi TTS covered the 20 kilometer (12.4 mi) course with a total of 156 corners in roughly 27 minutes, attaining a top speed of 72 km/h (44.7 mph). It used differential GPS for navigation, which achieves considerably higher accuracy as compared to the conventional system,with margins of error down to a few inches.
2009: Bonneville Salt Flats – how did the Audi rings get onto a salt lake?
In the fall of 2009, Audi sent a driverless Audi TTS concept car onto Bonneville Salt Flats in the US state of Utah. This white coupé then went on to draw the brand’s Four Rings in perfect circles onto the salt lake. It also set a new speed record of 210 km/h (130.5 mph) for piloted driving cars.
As an homage to former Audi rally driver Michèle Mouton, the technology platform was dubbed “Shelley.” Its specific data technology was developed jointly by Audi, Volkswagen and the Volkswagen Automotive Innovation Laboratory (VAIL) at Stanford University in California.
Autonomous Driving Cup
To generate as many ideas as possible and to create enthusiasm for the subject among budding engineers, Audi created a contest known as the Autonomous Driving Cup. This is aimed at computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering majors. They are invited to develop fully automatic driving functions including the necessary software architectures and to demonstrate them in larger-scale (1:8) model cars.
The teams then compete against each other with their models on a circuit. In assessing the teams’ showing, the jury evaluates on-track performance, but also the respective solution’s technological elegance and its presentation by the team. The three winners share a total of 16,000 euros in prize money.
Equipment, data and prices specified in this document refer to the model range offered in Germany. Subject to change without notice.