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Audi Autonomous TTS Pikes Peak – Click above for high-res image gallery

Audi has revealed a new livery for its Autonomous TTS Pikes Peak research car, drawing on the look of the original Quattro coupe rally cars of the early 1980s. When the Autonomous TTS was first announced late last year, we were expecting it to be running this weekend in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The current time-line for the program is to run the TTS up the mountain this fall and then go for a new world land speed record for autonomous vehicles at a yet-to-be-disclosed dry lake bed.

The sensing hardware of the TTS is using a different approach from earlier autonomous vehicles. Instead of the array of cameras, laser and radar, this car is using only high precision differential GPS along with the inertial sensors that are part of the stability control system. Driving is handled by a pair of computers in the trunk with hardware comparable to a laptop. One machine runs the sensing software and safety algorithms while the other handles the vehicle dynamics. The latter is being developed to let the TTS run like a rally car, drifting on gravel corners in order to get maximum speed. There's a video of the car in motion after the jump, but we'll be on hand to see it running the mountain later this year.

[Source: Audi]

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New look, reaffirmed mission for Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak

- Bold new look and name honor the spirit of past Audi rally winners
- Audi TTS research car on track for high-speed testing without a driver on tricky Pikes Peak mountain course this fall
- Research project with Stanford University, Oracle Corp. points way to future driver assistance safety systems

HERNDON, Va., Jun 25, 2010 - Audi today launched a bold new design for the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak, as research surrounding the car that can drive itself enters a crucial stage before high-speed test runs up Pikes Peak in Colorado this fall.

With the changed appearance, the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak is now squarely aligned with Audi cars that made motorsports history a generation ago in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and other rally racing events.

The new emphasis for the project also honors quattro® technology, which has played an instrumental role in Audi racing successes, has served as a leading example of the progressive engineering found in Audi passenger vehicles and is integral to the handling of the Audi TTS research car. This year marks the 30th anniversary of quattro on the world automotive stage.

The challenge and heritage of Pikes Peak
The association between Pikes Peak and this research project relates to the original goal of developing advanced algorithms and actuation systems that would allow a car to complete a driving course without a human behind the wheel.

The partners in developing this technology – the Stanford University Dynamic Design Lab (DDL), the Electronics Research Lab (ERL) for the Volkswagen Group in Palo Alto, Calif., and Oracle Corp. – chose the part-pavement, part-gravel route of the storied Pikes Peak race to prove the project's capabilities.

"Our aim from the start has been to show how the future of driver assistance technologies will lead to dramatic improvements in traffic safety and saving lives," said Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, Executive Director, ERL. "With this project we are working on electronics that will help drivers steer their way out of dangerous situations. But first we need to create programs that would replicate the quick decisions and rapid maneuvers of the best rally racers under the most difficult road conditions."

The connection with rally racing provided another key inspiration to the project team.

"Many of the leading automotive technologies we see in our cars today evolved out of motorsports," said mechanical engineering Associate Professor Chris Gerdes, director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif. "This is because racing pushes emerging technologies to the limits before they can be adopted more broadly."

How the Autonomous TTS Pikes Peak works
The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak is based on a street-ready Audi TTS sports car. The team chose the TTS because its native systems, including a drive-by-wire throttle and a semiautomatic DSG gearbox were a good fit with the electronics that allow the car to drive without human input.

The computing hardware added to the TTS research car isn't significantly more elaborate than what can be found in a standard laptop. The car currently uses two computers in its trunk – one running safety critical algorithms using Oracle's Real Time Java (Java RTS). The other runs vehicle dynamics algorithms. The two sets of algorithms are what enable the TTS to drive at the limits of handling on a variety of surfaces, speeds and conditions.

The differential GPS system is capable of keeping the TTS within two centimeters of the center line of a normal course; researchers are planning on a one-meter margin on Pikes Peak due to the extreme conditions.

The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak gained global recognition last year with a Web video that showcased the car's ability to execute complex maneuvers on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats without a human behind the steering wheel.

In the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Audi legends were born a generation ago. Audi rally cars, such as the Audi Sport quattro S1 Pikes Peak, employed the all-wheel drive technology to win the 12.42-mile "Race to the Clouds" in convincing fashion. The drivers of those Audi quattro rally cars – Bobby Unser, Walter Roehrl and Michele Mouton – earned places in motorsports history at Pikes Peak. In fact, the researchers from Stanford and the Volkswagen Group's Electronics Research Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., nicknamed the project "Shelley" after Mouton and her racing exploits.

The Sport quattro S1 also inspired the "S" range of performance models, such as today's critically acclaimed Audi S4 sedan.

Design challenge – combining the past and the future
Tying the Audi traditions into a look for the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak became an engaging assignment for Audi designers at the company's Design Center California in Santa Monica. Several options emerged, including an art car look that depicted the Pikes Peak route in a topographic map covering the body of the TTS.

For the design that was selected, the goal was to pay homage to the past, while conveying the leading-edge technology that defines the TTS research car. Designers decided to give the rally car themes from the 1980s a forward-looking twist, said Sangyup Lee, Chief Designer (Group Exterior) at VW/Audi Group Studio California.

The original rally cars, for example didn't feature a large four rings logo on their roofs. But the designers used that design cue from modern Audi DTM racing cars in Europe so the brand image would be evident in aerial photos and videos.

"We were very much inspired by the Pikes Peak race cars," noted Raul Cenan, Lead Designer on the TTS project. "But there was very different technology used in those cars overall. So we decided to go with more modern elements that were heritage-inspired."

Planned Timeline for the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak
The highlight of the months ahead for the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak is the planned high-speed testing up Pikes Peak in the fall, weather conditions permitting.

During testing the Pikes Peak course would be divided into segments, which the TTS research car would drive at progressively increasing speeds. Certification of the testing would be done by an independent motorsports organization.

Later in the fall, also weather permitting, the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak plans to make a Guinness Book of World Records land speed attempt at the El Mirage Lake dry-lake bed in southern California or another nearby location.

Officials from the Guinness Book would certify whether the TTS research car can establish a record in the new category of fastest speed in an autonomous vehicle.

Media coverage details will be forthcoming.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      "but officer, I wasn't speeding, it was the car"
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm curious as to the current legality of actually allowing an autonomous vehicle to drive itself around on public streets...
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm sure the car can follow the traffic regulations just fine (See DARPA Urban Challenge rules). Don't know about how hard it is to get driver licences for a computer as it's hardly 18 years old.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sadly, the paint job reminds me of the project I was going to do this summer.

      I was going to create the ultimate Tahoe car. Buy a first gen TT coupe, lift the suspension, fit white steelies and snow tires. Paintjob featuring the Audi Sport colors, ski rack on the back, spotlights on the roof, and a winch on the front (possibly). But my girfriend wouldn't let me.
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      clearly if it's using only GPS it's just programmed to follow a pre-determined and pre-programme route. That's not an autonomous car , it's a zombie.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm impressed, especially if you compare to the rig used on Junior for the darpa urban challenge: http://www.tgdaily.com/files/images/stories/article_images/darpa/idf_car.jpg
      They've clearly come a long way in reducing the gear needed to pull something like this off.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Without using any sort of sensors to determine what is actually in front of the car, I wonder how they intend to give it any sort of accident avoidance.
      • 5 Years Ago
      How do you only pilot a car using GPS? I'd assume that might be able to keep you fairly near the road but able to give you accurate lane placement? I just don't see how.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The "S" on the doors is a hint. The Audi is "pimped" by Stanford racing team notorious for winning 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and getting silver medal in 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. The car does not blindly follow the GPS coordinates but is actually aware of the environment and can optimize driving path accordingly.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Plus you've got lane departure warning systems, radar cruise control, radar brake assist, and you could tie all of those into the data bus. And with 4G networks, data stream bandwidth wouldn't be an issue, at least in coverage areas. Autonomous vehicles are progressing nicely.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The airborne GPS equipment I use at work(aerial mapping) can give very good accuracy, to fractions of a meter most times.

        Granted, this is much more advanced(and expensive) than a typical automobile GPS system, but that kind of accuracy is definitely possible.
        • 5 Years Ago
        With the right GPS setup, you can get below 6" accuracy with fair reliability. We've been doing this in the agriculture industry for a number of years now for machine guidance.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I understand the possible accuracy of the GPS system, my problem is with the road placement. In other words, is the road absolutely where the map says it should be? Many times, I've found roads not exactly where the maps say they are. There's a few roads I drive on regularly, and the GPS navigation system in my car consistently shows me driving off the road in several locations. If it only happened once or even twice, I could see the GPS tracking being at fault but since it tracks the same way every time I drive on those roads, it tells me the maps are wrong, not the GPS. If this is the case, then it tells me that driving solely by GPS is NOT going to work.
        Since that's all Audi claims to be using on this car, I question how it could possibly work.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I only see this working on roads that they have verified to be 100% accurately mapped, so the GPS would be sufficient guidance. If they were to try that on a number of roads I drive on, that thing would be off-road pretty quick.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So, if it's autonomous, why not gut the interior, remove the mirrors, and replace all the windows with sheets of carbon fiber? You could shave off a few hundred pounds.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Because despite being a TTS, that project isn't about designing for racing, I guess.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't see a space for the KITT-scanner-like row of red lights up front.

      [attempts his best deadpan]
      • 5 Years Ago
      I would still like to have a Manual override just in case.

      what's up with Gm's Autonomous Vehicle why do they need till 2015 just for a concept.

      and Vw/Audi AG Already has working prototypes which are almost near completion.

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