Audi’s autonomous A7 research car gains human characteristics and ‘social competence’

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Audi is continuing the evolution of its latest A7 autonomous research car, named ‘Jack’, with the vehicle now even more adept at operating just like a human driver, in what the company refers to as ‘piloted driving’ mode.

Audi is continually advancing the development of its piloted driving test car, and Jack is now driving more naturally, with its autonomously performed motorway driving maneuvers becoming further refined, and the car now even more proficient at showing consideration for other road users. The A7 coupe exhibits a driving style that is adaptive to the given situation, safe and especially interactive, displaying a form of ‘social competence’. This is illustrated by the way it confidently deals with hazardous points on the road, passes trucks with a slightly wider lateral gap, and signals upcoming lane changes by activating the indicator and moving closer to the lane marking first; just like human drivers would do to indicate their intentions. The opportunities for taking full advantage of Jack’s autonomous features are also now made more apparent to its driver, with its sophisticated navigation system now capable of computing a route containing the largest possible proportion of piloted driving sections.

Jack’s cooperative attitude is especially apparent when other vehicles want to merge into its lane on the motorway. Here the test car decides, based on the selected driving profile, whether to accelerate or brake, depending on which is best suited to handling the traffic situation harmoniously for all road users. The ‘brain’ of its piloted driving system is the central driver assistance controller, or zFAS, which uses state-of-the-art, high-performance processors to evaluate the signals from all sensors in real-time, and create a model of the car’s surroundings. This model represents the prevailing traffic situation as accurately as possible, and lets the zFAS calculate upcoming maneuvers in advance, by ‘taking a look into the future’.

Audi has been demonstrating the next steps in piloted driving on public roads, such as under real traffic conditions on US highways from the west coast to Las Vegas, Nevada. The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s new digital test site on the A9 autobahn offers the company ideal conditions for evaluating and further developing future functions and concepts, together with representatives of the Free State of Bavaria, and the automotive and IT industries.

Audi will probe the technical possibilities of Vehicle-to-Vehicle/Infrastructure (V2X) communication here, under real road conditions and in real time. Audi’s partners for the digital test site on the A9 autobahn are testing the internal composition and modified material structure of roadside posts, which are to be designed to reflect the signals from the car’s radar sensors from greater distances. Project participants within the scope of the test parameters are also studying special traffic signs that allow the test vehicles to localize their positions with high precision within the various driving lane markings.

As the complexity of traffic situations significantly intensifies along the route segment from the motorway exit to city zones, Audi is researching and developing another test site for this ‘first mile’ scenario in Bavaria, near the redesigned ‘Ingolstadt-Süd’ autobahn exit. From 2017, Audi, together with the city of Ingolstadt, will be testing construction methods, such as the use of different types of pavement, as well as technical solutions, such as the use of sensors in junction zones. Piloted driving research cars from Audi are already being incorporated into the design of the new infrastructure.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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