Audi’ s push to develop its autonomous driving technology has gradually taken steps forward to the point that the company’s research car, the Audi A7 piloted driving concept, is now more refined in performing a variety of functions by itself. Nicknamed “Jack” for unspecified reasons, the A7 is said to be more “socially competent” than it ever has been in the past. In other words, the car is now able to navigate around its surrounding while remaining cognizant of other drivers in its area. This kind of consideration allows it adapt to a particular situation, much like what we normally do when we find ourselves in similar circumstances.
In its latest iteration, Jack has exhibited increased comfort and competence in navigating around road hazards, as well as timing his passes around large trucks, and his ability to make the appropriate turn signals. A huge part of Jack’s success can be attributed to what Audi calls the zFAS processor, which the automaker describes as the brains behind the outfit. This particular system comes with high-performance processors that works overdrive in real time to identify and evaluate Jack’s surroundings. As soon as the zFAS lays out the template of the land so to speak, it immediately plots and calculates moves that Jack would be doing, well in advance of the actual moves happening.
The pace by which Audi has developed the A7 piloted driving concept is proof at how serious this so-called race is among a lot of automakers in the industry. To its credit, the gains that have been made in the development of Jack hasn’t gone to Audi’s head. On the contrary, the German automaker continues to push forward and has even partnered with city of Ingolstadt to develop a test site that will test construction methods and technical solutions to plot out a system that can improve driving conditions throughout the country.
Test operations featuring some of Jack’s contemporaries are scheduled to begin in 2018. Similarly, a digital test site on the A9 autobahn has been opened to give automakers like Audi real-time road conditions to further develop and test the technology.
Why it matters
Audi’s A7 Piloted Driving Concept Making Steady Improvements
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the field of autonomous driving technology, but I think I’m well versed enough to know when an automaker is making serious strides with its own research and development. That seems to be the case with Audi, which is really showing a lot of results for all the effort that it has put into developing the A7 piloted driving concept.
Remember, the car, or Jack, has been around for close to two years and in Audi has done little else on it other than to put it through the ringer. It’s been on electronics shows like the Consumer Electronics Show, it’s been on exhibitions, it’s even had thousands of testing miles on its odometer. All these things prove that Audi isn’t wasting any time in the development of the technology and here we are now, witnessing what the German automaker has accomplished so far.
To be fair, Audi isn’t the only company that’s pursuing autonomous driving tech. Seemingly every automaker with an interest in the technology is making its own plans and studies for it. That’s not to say that any one company is already better than the others in this regard, but Audi has been one of the most vocal companies when it comes to showcasing what it has developed and tested out. I haven’t seen Jack in action in the flesh, but from the accounts of those that have seen him first hand, it does look like he’s coming along quite nicely and is living up to all the hours and money Audi has poured into the development of autonomous driving.
Where it goes from here is another matter entirely, although I am confident that if there’s an automaker that can figure out the next phase of development, it’s Audi. The company has already partnered with the IT industry, political leaders, and local communities to take part in the further development of its autonomous driving tech. That in itself is reason to give the four rings some credit. If for nothing else, it’s been proactive in this regard and doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The evolution of the piloted Audi is continuing apace – the Vorsprung durch Technik brand’s latest research car, the Audi A7 piloted driving concept “Jack”, is now even more adept at operating just like a human driver – its autonomously performed motorway driving manoeuvres have been further refined, and it is now even more proficient at showing consideration for other road users. “Jack” exhibits a driving style that is adaptive to the given situation, safe and especially interactive – it is a research car with social competence.
Audi is continually advancing the development of its piloted driving test car. “Jack” – the internal nickname for the A7 Sportback-based technology platform – is now driving more naturally. This is illustrated by the way it confidently deals with hazardous points on the road, passes trucks with a slightly wider lateral gap and signals upcoming lane changes by activating the indicator and moving closer to the lane marking first – just like human drivers would do to indicate their intentions. The opportunities for taking full advantage of “Jack’s” piloted features are also now made more apparent to its driver – its sophisticated navigation system is now capable of computing a route containing the largest possible proportion of piloted driving sections.
The cooperative attitude of “Jack” is especially apparent when other vehicles want to merge into its lane on the motorway. Here the test car decides – based on the selected driving profile – whether to accelerate or brake, depending on which is best suited to handling the traffic situation harmoniously for all road users.
State-of-the-art zFAS controller
The super brain of piloted driving is the central driver assistance controller, or zFAS. It uses state-of-the-art, high-performance processors to evaluate the signals from all sensors in real-time and create a model of the car’s surroundings. This model represents the prevailing traffic situation as accurately as possible. It lets the zFAS calculate upcoming manoeuvres in advance, taking a look into the future, so to speak.
Piloted driving offers greater safety, more efficient utilisation of the transportation infrastructure and more relaxation time for the driver. Audi has already derived systems for assisted driving from the tested technologies, including the traffic jam assist function now available in the Audi A4 and Audi Q7.
Audi continues to document its progress in piloted driving with spectacular events. In the United States, for instance, a driverless Audi TTS etched the brand’s four rings trademark into the surface of a salt flat and also conquered the legendary hill climb up Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains without a driver. At the Hockenheim Motodrome, a driverless Audi RS 7 Sportback chased down the limits of driving physics in fall 2014. Since then, Audi has been demonstrating the next steps in piloted driving on public roads too, for example under real traffic conditions on American highways from the west coast to Las Vegas.
Digital test site on the A9 autobahn
The future is networked – this is especially applicable to piloted driving. In the future, cars and the infrastructure will communicate with one another more intensively. Common information interfaces are an important condition for this, so that the benefits of piloted driving can be better utilised on motorways. The digital test site on the A9 autobahn – announced by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure – offers ideal conditions for evaluating and further developing future functions and concepts together with representatives of the Free State of Bavaria, the automotive industry and the IT industry. The brand with the four rings can once again probe the technical possibilities of Car-to-X communication here – under real road conditions and in real time.
In the future, information on variable-message traffic signs, for example, will be digitally transmitted into the car in order to assist the traffic flow. In addition, Audi is defining and testing elements of the future communications standard 5G together with IT partners. Car-to-X communication immediately enables piloted driving cars to use paved road shoulders when these are temporarily opened.
Another step forward is Car-to-Car communication between automobiles that are travelling on the same routes. They can report on hazardous points and accidents in real time. The driving speeds of other road users operating with piloted driving are then automatically adjusted to the potential hazard.
The local infrastructure plays a special role for piloted driving on the motorway. In addition to sensors in the car, signals from the environment give the driver a precise preview of the road ahead. Audi’s partners for the digital test site on the A9 autobahn, for example, are testing the internal composition and modified material structure of roadside posts. These are to be designed to reflect the radar sensors of cars even from greater distances. In addition, project participants within the scope of the test parameters are studying special traffic signs that allow the test vehicles to localize their positions with high precision within the various driving lane markings.
For most customers, the complexity of traffic situations significantly intensifies again along the route segment from the motorway exit to city zones. Audi is researching and developing another test site for this so-called “first mile” in Bavaria, near the redesigned autobahn exit “Ingolstadt-Süd.” From 2017, Audi – together with the city of Ingolstadt – will be testing construction methods such as the use of different types of pavement as well as technical solutions such as the use of sensors in junction zones. Piloted driving research cars from Audi are already being incorporated into the design of the new infrastructure. Test operation should begin in 2018.