Audi has once again demonstrated its leading role in the field of driverless, or “piloted”, driving. Its latest research car, the Audi A7 piloted driving concept “Jack”, has not only learned how to autonomously perform all of its driving manoeuvres on the motorway—it has learned how to show consideration for other road users. Jack exhibits a safe driving style that is adaptive to the given situation – a research car with social competence.
Audi is continually advancing the development of its piloted driving test car. Jack – the internal nickname for the Audi A7 piloted driving vehicle – is now driving more naturally. It now confidently deals with hazardous points on the road, passing trucks with a slightly wider lateral gap. Jack also signals upcoming lane changes by activating the turn signal and moving closer to the lane marking first – just like human drivers would do to indicate their intentions.
Jack’s cooperative attitude is especially apparent when other vehicles want to merge into the lane, like on a 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. Upon request, the navigation system can also compute a route with the largest proportion of piloted driving sections.
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 traffic jam assist in the all-new Audi A4 and Audi Q7.
Audi at the forefront of digital car research
The future is networked – this is especially applicable to piloted driving. In the future, cars and road 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. A “digital test site” on the A9 autobahn in Bavaria has been approved by the German Federal Government, allowing Audi to probe the technical possibilities of this “Car-to-X” communication 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 great distances. In addition, project participants, within the scope of the test parameters, are studying special traffic signs that allow the test vehicles to localise their positions with high precision within the various driving lane markings.
For most customers, the complexity of traffic situations significantly intensifies 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” 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 intersection zones. Piloted driving research cars from Audi are already being incorporated into the design of the new infrastructure. Test operation should begin in 2018.