The Robots Are Coming: Audi Edition
Audi Piloted Driving:
TLP made a trip over to Sonoma Raceway on Friday to check out the impending robot takeover of the human race….Just joking. We were invited to take a look at the Audi Piloted Driving Cars also know as autonomous vehicles.
One of these vehicles, an Audi A7 named “Jack” made news earlier this year when Audi piloted the car 550 miles from San Francisco to Las Vegas without direct human intervention. Another vehicle, an RS7 named Bobbi did hot laps at the Hockenheim Ring Grand Prix Circuit in Germany. Then there was “Shelly” an Audi TTS that took on the Pikes Peak Hill Climb without any human assistance.
For those of you that may fear the impending robot takeover of our roadways, you probably still have some time, like approximately 30 more years before autonomous vehicles are in real world usage every day. Audi’s approach is to make the control by the pilot and the autonomous experience seamless by allowing the pilot to easily take over, much in the same way one might disengage cruise control today. This is not some mindless experience where the driver can nap away while blasting down I-5. Rather, Audi has conducted extensive studies regarding reaction times from disengaged to engaged pilot. Interestingly, the studies reveal that reaction times are better for pilots engaged in some type of activity such as email checking or social media interaction on the car’s entertainment system versus a pilot reading a news paper for example.
The most immediate benefit of this research and development is that the highly sophisticated radar and camera systems that make piloted driving possible will find their way into our road cars in the next 5-10 years. This research has been in the works for the last 15 years and has helped make advancements in lane assist technology, adaptive cruise control and greater use of collision avoidance systems.
The most impressive feature though, is automated parking, where as the driver you can have the car park itself without needing to be at the wheel at all. Imagine entering a parking garage, getting out of your car and the car engages in the drudgery of finding a space in the crowded garage while you go off and enjoy your dinner, or make it to the work meeting on time.
Audi has a motorsports philosophy that attempts to take the successes of racing technology and applies those lessons and developments to road cars. How does one make the link between motorsport dominance in the melding of man and machine to cars that can drive themselves? According to an Audi official I spoke to, its very simply. Audi believes driving should be an enjoyable experience, but given todays poor roads, lack of parking and constant traffic disruptions, driving is often unpleasant. The inclusion of autonomous cars would provide relief from those parts of driving that we have all come to hate. Rather than staring into the distance of a traffic standstill, one could allow the car to takeover while the driver/pilot reads email, or perhaps Skypes with family members.
With all of that being said, it was certainly impressive to watch was the RS7 “Bobbi” doing hot laps around the Sonoma Raceway. It was frankly, bizarre to see a car with no driver pushing for every second. Of course the car is programed to maximize the available road space and speed conditions.
Jay Leno was also at Sonoma Raceway testing the Audis for his car show. He stopped by and talked to a few people and posed for photographs. His best lap time was a second better than the car driving its self.
Bonus Round: Audi R8 V10
I also had the opportunity to do some good ol' fashion driving around Sonoma on the public roads via the Audi Sports Car Experience. The weapon of choice was an Audi R8 V10 Plus putting out 550HP. This is virtually the same 5.2l V10 that’s in the Lamborghini Gallardo. Few roads are able to prove a decent meal large enough for the R8 to gobble up. Riding in a caravan of R8s, some of us in the group wisely determined that we could slow down to 30mph to build up a big gap to the car in front then BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR, shoot the gap and see how fast we could get before riding the carbon ceramic brakes back to a safe speed.
It occurred to me at the moment I was reaching light speed and being crushed back into the seat by the 400 ft.lbs of torque that the autonomous car concept is generational. I’m impressed the technology and the gadgets but the raw power and precision impresses me more. The younger generations will appreciate these advances as they will not have memories driving for fun or enjoyment. As I downshifted the dual clutch transmission via the paddle shifters, and headed toward the redline letting the V10 sing its music across Napa Valley I sadly realized that our American car culture is in decline. Our automotive infrastructure is decaying, traffic jams are not limited to rush hour, and most drivers lack basic competence on the road. The more we jam the roads and drive like fools we only hasten the advance of cars that will do the work for us. As mentioned before, Audi’s researchers have determined the delayed reaction time of various non-driving activities such as tuning the radio, texting, watching a movie, etc. I cant help but think that at some level the scientist have given up on dissuading these activities and are attempted to determine how they can transition this behavior to the cockpit of a piloted car. Rather than change the behaviors that don’t belong in a car, the solution is to build around them.
The technology is seamless and will benefit drivers in multiple ways, and will help our roads become safer. That's all fine and good, but on some level it seems that a lot of work is going into ensuring that we can answer email and do work stuff another few hours out of our already shrunken day. If robots driving is going to be the future, at least Audi is keeping it real for the interim! Did I mention the Audi R8 V10 Plus has 550hp?