Once autonomous driving becomes commonplace, the idea of autonomous track racing will undoubtedly lose any small amount of luster it has. But as the technology works to prove itself, the world's interest remains piqued. After tearing around the Hockenheimring last year, Audi has made the leap across the Atlantic to run its updated RS 7 piloted driving concept on Sonoma Raceway.
Audi plans to launch piloted driving on the next-generation A8, and it's been quite busy readying the technology. After racing Hockenheim with the RS 7 concept nicknamed "Bobby," it navigated the highways between Silicon Valley and CES (Las Vegas) in a piloted A7 nicknamed "Jack" back in January. Jack then went on to drive Germany's autobahns autonomously at speeds of more than 80 mph (130 km/h), and Audi also navigated autonomously through Shanghai city traffic during CES Asia.
California's Sonoma Raceway is the latest stretch of pavement to serve as testing ground for Audi's autonomous driving program. An updated RS 7 nicknamed "Robby" self-drove itself around the track at high speeds, logging a fastest time of 2:01.01 on the 2.5-mi (4-km) track. The latest RS 7 piloted concept has dropped some 880 lb (400 kg) while maintaining the same 560-hp (412-kW) output as the Hockenheim car.
"In Sonoma, we took the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept to its physical limits lap after lap, and it handled the task with uniform precision," says Audi's Thomas Müller, head of brake, steering and driver assistance system development. "The car turned in lap times that were better than those of sports car drivers."
In March, Autocar reported that Audi had delayed the launch of the next-gen A8 in order to complete the electronic architecture behind the piloted driving suite. The A8 is now expected in late 2017. According to Audi, the A8's Traffic Jam Pilot System will allow the car to temporarily "take the wheel" in stop-and-go traffic at speeds up to 37 mph (60 km/h). The car will also be able to drive itself during parking maneuvers. This package represents the next step in Audi's gradual autonomous driving suite rollout.
The new Audi flagship will be based on Volkswagen's MLB Evo architecture, which is making its debut on the new Q7. The A8 is expected to get its looks from the Prologue concepts that Audi revealed at the recent Los Angeles, Geneva and Beijing auto shows.