In announcing the achievements of its latest RS7 Piloted Driving prototype, Audi has confirmed that the system will be offered for the first time on the next A8, the upcoming iteration of the German automaker's flagship sedan. Just as we heard this past January, the next-gen A8 will be able to drive itself around town at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. Ingolstadt still isn't saying when we can expect the new A8 to arrive, but considering that the current model has been around since 2009 (albeit with periodic updates along the way) and that its key rivals – the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series – are both much newer models, Audi shouldn't be waiting much longer to launch its new flagship.
The announcement was made as part of the reveal for "Robby," the latest version of the company's self-driving RS7 concept. The previous version, dubbed "Bobby," was based on the same model, and gave our man Jonathon Buckley over at Translogic a run for his money around Ascari a few months ago. (We'll let you watch the video below to see who fared better). But the new version is a good 882 pounds lighter, lapping the Sonoma Raceway (previously known as Infineon or Sears Point) in 2:01.01. That's in what is ostensibly still a road car, just one that's operated by a computer. The fastest lap ever recorded on the full 2.5-mile circuit, in case you were wondering, was also achieved in an Audi, but that was the R8 Le Mans Prototype that Allan McNish hustled around in a 1:20.68 qualifying lap.
Faster than a sports car driver: Audi pilots itself on US race track
- Testing the new-generation Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept
- Top lap times on Sonoma Raceway in California
Piloted driving at Audi is approaching production readiness at race pace. 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 surpassed previous top performances once again. Audi will be offering piloted driving for the first time in the upcoming generation of the Audi A8.
"In Sonoma, we took the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept to its physical limits lap after lap, and it handled the task with uniform precision," says Thomas Müller, who is responsible for the development of brake, steering and driver assistance systems at Audi. "The car turned in lap times that were better than those of sports car drivers." The RS 7 took just 2:01.01 minutes to complete the 4,050-meter (2.5 mi) circuit.
For some time now, Audi has been testing piloted driving under increasingly challenging conditions. In October 2014, an RS 7 nicknamed "Bobby" already completed a driverless lap on the Hockenheimring at speeds up to 240 km/h (149.1 mph). The new generation of the car is named "Robby," has a power output of 412 kW (560 hp) and is around 400 kg (881.8 lb) lighter than its predecessor. Whether braking, steering or accelerating, the piloted car controls all driving functions fully autonomously and with maximum precision.
Audi is also testing piloted driving in the challenging situation of real road traffic.
At the start of 2015, "Jack" – an Audi A7 piloted driving concept with many near-production solutions – drove on public highways from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Shortly thereafter, this car also drove autonomously on German autobahns at speeds up to 130 km/h (80.8 mph). At CES Asia in May 2015, journalists also had an opportunity to experience piloted driving – in the traffic of megacity Shanghai.
The development work, which includes driving on a very wide array of testing grounds, is yielding valuable knowledge for series-production systems – from the sensor technology and data processing to vehicle control and stabilization.
The technologies for piloted driving stand for safety, time savings, efficiency and convenience. The systems can make a valuable contribution to safety, especially when the driver is overwhelmed or underwhelmed by driving tasks. In addition, it gives drivers greater freedom for organizing their time in the car. When used to temporarily assume driving tasks, the predictive technology makes driving more efficient, reduces stress and enhances comfort. Piloted driving will make its production debut in the next generation of the luxury-class sedan, the Audi A8. The systems can assume control of the car during parking or in stop-and-go traffic on freeways at speeds up to 60 km/h (37.3 mph).