Two years ago, the idea of driverless cars on our roads seemed crazy to many people. Today, the technology is being built into our cars, and a driverless Audi RS7 is set to lap Hockenheim at the same pace as a professional racing driver. The event on October 19 will show just how far driverless cars have come.
Audi has been working on autonomous vehicles for a number of years. In 2009, it tested a driverless Audi TTS on the Bonneville Salt Flats. In 2010 that TTS drove the Pikes Peak mountain race circuit in Colorado, followed by some impressive laps on California's Thunderhill Raceway in 2012. Back then, the TTS couldn't quite keep up with the pro drivers, but the RS7 is able to do just that.
Although Audi has received licenses for testing its driverless cars on public roads in Florida and California, the company says that the race track is the most demanding place for testing driverless cars. This, it says, is due to the high levels of precision and entire lack of errors that are required. The RS7 will use "specially corrected GPS signals for orientation on the track" that are accurate to within 1 cm (0.4-in) and will receive data via WLAN or high-frequency radio should the need for fallback arise.
In addition to using GPS for navigation, the car will monitor 3D images captured in real time and compare them against graphical images stored on board. By analyzing hundreds of features in the images, the car will be able to improve the level of its driving accuracy and performance.
Audi says the RS7 will drive "a clean racing line with full throttle on the straights, full braking before the corners, precise turn-in and perfectly metered acceleration when exiting the corners." It is expected to hit a top speed of 240 km/h (149 mph) and to complete a lap of the GP length circuit in 2 minutes and 10 seconds.
The automaker claims that the technologies it is developing for driverless cars will be featuring in vehicles by the end of this decade. These technologies will include cars' ability to take over steering and acceleration when they're in a traffic jam and automatic parking maneuvering.
The lap of Audi's driverless RS7 around Hockenheim will be broadcast on the company's website on October 19.