Audi on au­topi­lot

In­gol­stadt aims a self-guided pot­shot at BMW with its vi­sion of an au­ton­o­mous fu­ture

Wheels (Australia) - - Redlind -

THE RACE to au­ton­omy has kicked up a gear, with Audi lay­ing out plans to leapfrog archri­val BMW by of­fer­ing a ‘highly au­ton­o­mous’ car by next year.

Re­vealed to Wheels re­cently as part of an Audi Tech­nol­ogy Sum­mit in Barcelona, the new, fourth-gen­er­a­tion A8 will be the first pro­duc­tion ve­hi­cle to de­ploy level-three au­ton­o­mous driv­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, and it’s set to ar­rive next year, three years be­fore BMW’S fully au­ton­o­mous in­ext (see Wheels Au­gust).

Highly au­ton­o­mous, or lev­elthree ca­pa­bil­ity, will take the next-gen A8 be­yond cur­rent level-two cars, with the abil­ity to as­sume con­trol of safety-crit­i­cal func­tions, al­low­ing the car to drive it­self, with a hu­man placed to take the wheel when re­quired.

Yet it’s In­gol­stadt’s next chap­ter that is truly com­pelling. Ac­cord­ing to Audi’s vi­sion, the in­fant stages of level-four self­driv­ing pro­duc­tion cars will be emerg­ing in­side four years, with full, level-five au­ton­omy to fol­low soon af­ter.

But while the forth­com­ing A8 will be the first to pro­vide tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of progress to­wards a fully au­ton­o­mous fu­ture, both Ger­man brands are fight­ing to be the first to make an­other sig­nif­i­cant break­through in the race to­wards full au­ton­omy. The pro­jected time­line for this is around 2021.

To earn its level-three cre­den­tials, the Audi AI ‘traf­fic jam pi­lot’ sys­tem in the A8 must be able to main­tain con­trol even if the driver is in­ca­pable of tak­ing over, which re­quires a level of re­dun­dancy for all crit­i­cal safety func­tions, not un­like those en­gi­neered into pas­sen­ger air­craft. De­spite the data-gath­er­ing and com­put­ing go­ing on in the back­ground of such a sys­tem, its op­er­a­tion will be seam­less.

Two elec­tri­cal sys­tems – one 48V and one 12V – mit­i­gate against a com­plete elec­tri­cal fail­ure, while hy­brid pow­er­trains will al­low un­in­ter­rupted drive if ei­ther com­bus­tion or elec­tric power fails. Dual brak­ing cir­cuits are backed up by dual power sup­plies, and a cam­era mon­i­tors the driver to eval­u­ate if they are ca­pa­ble of re­gain­ing con­trol. The com­pany’s ZFAS cen­tral con­trol sys­tem is de­signed with a main com­puter and a sec­ondary smaller ver­sion, which con­stantly mon­i­tor each other for faults.

Audi’s mul­ti­fac­eted view of the fu­ture con­verges in an am­bi­tious project – The 25th Hour. An au­ton­o­mous car ‘driv­ing’ sim­u­la­tor may seem as use­ful as a white crayon, but the 25th Hour lab pro­vides a high-def­i­ni­tion pre­view of Audi’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a fully au­ton­o­mous car and the clear­est view yet of­fered of what it will be like to ride with­out a driver.

The 25th Hour project paints fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles not as recog­nis­able three-box, two-

row ve­hi­cles (mi­nus the steer­ing wheel), but as an ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent co­coon that can sense and adapt to your de­mands.

If that dis­tant con­cept is hard to fathom, the Audi RSQ con­cept’s cameo in the 2004 fea­ture film irobot of­fered a glimpse. Ac­cord­ing to Audi, the con­cept is no longer a far-fetched Hol­ly­wood fan­tasy. “Back then this was sci­ence fic­tion, but fic­tion will soon be­come re­al­ity,” Audi AG tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment board mem­ber Pe­ter Mertens said.

Audi’s au­ton­o­mous fleet will re­flect the elec­tric RSQ with a grow­ing num­ber of EVS that are set to join Audi’s ranks. With its e-tron plug-in hy­brid brand firmly es­tab­lished, fully elec­tric Audis are next, and they’re just around the cor­ner.

Next year, the e-tron stand­alone model will silently roll out un­der bat­tery power to claim the very spe­cific man­tle of “first high­per­for­mance, fully elec­tric SUV by a pre­mium OEM with a 500km range”. As the first Co2-neu­tral car to be built by the com­pany, it will be the most en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly Audi to date. Af­ter that, the e-tron Sport­back will ar­rive in 2019, and a third, as-yet-un­named all-elec­tric ve­hi­cle will fol­low in 2020. By 2021, the car maker says at least one vari­ant in each model range will be elec­tric.

The 25th Hour project leader Chris­tian Gun­ther told Wheels mon­i­tor­ing the brain ac­tiv­ity and stress lev­els of sim­u­la­tor oc­cu­pants has high­lighted crit­i­cal driver­less car fea­tures, such as win­dows that can turn opaque to re­duce dis­trac­tion with­out caus­ing mo­tion sick­ness, and the cor­rect colour of am­bi­ent light to pro­mote con­cen­tra­tion or re­lax­ation.

“The car should be­come a mem­brane. It should con­nect you to the city but at the same time it should know when you want to be in a con­trolled mode, or a pro­duc­tive mode, and help you to block out this in­for­ma­tion flood – an in­tel­li­gent fil­ter,” he said.

How will the ve­hi­cle ‘know’ your mood? Just as your em­ployer can es­tab­lish whether you re­ally are sick, or are just at a mu­sic fes­ti­val, by scan­ning so­cial me­dia. A new My Audi cus­tomer pro­file ser­vice will feed the ve­hi­cle in­for­ma­tion about the owner’s day-to-day life. With this in­sight into a typ­i­cal day, the car will pre­dict where the cus­tomer wants to go, when they want to be there, and the best route to take. But if that’s some­where other than the of­fice, don’t worry, it won’t tell your boss. DANIEL GARD­NER


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