The purpose of this experiment was to bring attention to autonomous-driving technology in hopes of moving it to real streets. Volkswagen AG’s Audi has tested several RS7 vehicles at speeds as high as 305 kilometres per hour. In these tests, it was up to the car to decide when and how to tackle the corner when racing against human drivers.
The self-driving RS7 uses a map that “just contains the left and right boundaries of the track,” explained Audi technician Peter Bergmiller, who was testing a vehicle named Bobby on a track just west of Berlin. “The car starts to think about it and generates its optimal line.”
But that’s not all the RS7 has to offer. According to Audi, the concept is fitted with automated controls to replace driver input for the electromechanical power steering, brakes, throttle valve and eight-speed transmission. For safer navigation, the vehicle will also receive signals from ground-based stations for correct location information – down to a centimetre.
On top of everything, the RS7 comes with 3D cameras for monitoring the surroundings in real time and capturing images to compare them against a database of graphical information and track reference points like buildings and other objects behind the track.
Plenty of automakers, including Mercedes-Benz and Tesla Motors, are already working on making driving easier by building cars that can park themselves and even take over the wheel in stop-and-go traffic. By showing that computer-controlled cars can handle the strains of racing at high speeds, Audi hopes to convince regulators that this technology is ready to be used in our everyday lives.
Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg says that if authorities accept self-driving capabilities now, “the first systems for piloted driving could come to market in a few years.”
Financially speaking, there’s a lot hanging in the balance when it comes to self-driving technology since, according to Boston-based Lux Research, it has potential to become an $87-billion market by 2030.