Over the years, Audi's piloted driving fleet has pushed autonomous driving forward with such feats as a Pikes Peak ascent and a Hockenheim lap. Audi's latest piloted driving accomplishment isn't quite so flashy, but it promises to be more important for everyday driving. A piloted A7 research car nicknamed "Jack" has become a smart, courteous defensive driver that should be a pleasure to drive beside, whether you're handling the wheel or rolling in an autonomous car of your own. Audi calls it a "research car with social competence."
Hot laps and hill climbs are nice, but the real future of autonomous driving isn't so much in competition; it's in routine, mundane commuting. So the latest look into Audi's piloted driving program may not have that "world first" sheen, but it's actually more pertinent to what autonomous cars will be doing on a daily basis.
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And what they'll be doing if Jack is to serve as a preview is acting like civically responsible adults, and not the road-raging, offensive-minded children that actual adult human drivers sometimes act like. Jack has learned to use its autonomous driving suite to make decisions that demonstrate exceptional roadway decorum while helping efficiency and safety.
For instance, if you intend to merge into Jack's lane, he won't mutter "Hell no" and speed up so that you can't get in, the way an overworked, underpaid human commuter might. Instead, as Audi explains, he will either speed up or slow down to let you in, depending upon which action is deemed most favorable for all road users. More technically, Jack's onboard zFAS controller creates a dynamic vision of real-time road conditions from all the data pulled from the car's onboard sensors and car-to-X communications systems, allowing Jack to immediately analyze the traffic surroundings before acting. So not only is Jack able to be a kind gentleman to you, the driver trying to move over, but he thinks about the entire highway before doing anything too rash.
Much autonomous research has focused on highway driving, which involves fewer speed changes and unpredictable obstacles. Audi is preparing a "first mile" research study with its home city of Ingolstadt, Germany. Tests, which will begin in 2018, will center around the transition from freeway to city driving on the "Ingolstadt-Süd (South)" autobahn exit. New infrastructure will be built with autonomous driving in mind and will include things like new types of pavement and sensors at intersections.