We’re just days away from watching Audi’s autonomous RS 7 tackle Germany’s Hockenheimring grand prix circuit with no one sitting behind the wheel. The stunt, which coincides with the DTM season finale running this weekend, is to demonstrate the dynamic potential and driving capabilities of Audi’s autonomous car technology, or Piloted Driving as the automaker likes to call it.

What makes this particular stunt stand out is the fact that the autonomous RS 7 will be attacking the Hockenheimring at race car speeds, using full throttle on the straights, full braking before the corners, precise turn-in and perfectly metered acceleration when exiting the corners. Initial testing has shown that the car will reach speeds of up to 149 mph. The estimated lap time is 2:10, which isn’t bad considering it takes around 2 minutes for the R8 supercar to lap the track with a professional driver in V-8 guise.

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The autonomous RS 7 is almost identical to the stock version of the 560-horsepower four-door coupe but its steering, brakes, throttle and transmission are all controlled automatically. Then, of course, there is the technology that monitors the vehicle’s surroundings and then controls all the vehicle functions.

The key is highly precise orientation of the vehicle on the road, which is achieved using two main features. The autonomous RS 7 uses specially corrected GPS signals for orientation on the track, said to be accurate down to a centimeter. Parallel to this, a special 3D camera takes images that are compared in real time against graphical information stored on board. The system searches in each of the countless individual images for several hundred known features, such as building patterns behind the track, which it then uses as additional positioning information.

Audi explains that the race track is one of the most demanding test beds for production when it comes to autonomous cars so these types of tests are perfect for ensuring the technology works extremely precisely and with zero errors in critical moments. For example, the data collected here will help engineers in the development of automatic avoidance functions in critical driving situations.

The first public demonstration of the autonomous RS 7 at the Hockenheimring takes place tomorrow. A second run will then take place on Sunday.

Audi is yet to announce a production car fitted with autonomous Piloted Driving technology but says some basic functionality should be available in the next five years. These basic functions are expected to be autonomous modes for traffic jams and highway driving. Note, Mercedes-Benz already offers such technology on some of its models and Cadillac has promised to offer similar technology on a new model due for the 2017 model year.


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