The drive toward autonomous driving has taken a big step with the successful navigation of an Audi A7 Sportback on a British motorway
Jack, as the piloted-driving concept is affectionally called, is reportedly now even more adept at driving like a human, having performed motorway driving manoeuvres that displayed consideration for other road users. Audi says “Jack exhibits a driving style that is adaptive to the given situation, safe and especially interactive — it is a research car with social conscience.”
Audi adds that the car is now driving more naturally, offering as proof the car’s signalling a lane change when passing a truck, for example, as it moves closer to the lane marking before executing the pass and giving a wide berth to the truck being passed. Also, it can figure out whether to speed up or slow down in order to allow a proper gap for another road user to merge harmoniously onto the highway, to the benefit of all other users.
But perhaps in a nod to the superiority of machine over man, which of course won’t thrill the detractors who still think a human can drive a car better than a computer, the car’s navigation system now plots a route over which it can take advantage of the largest possible proportion of piloted driving.
It is all attributed to the central driver assistance controller (zFAS), which uses high-performance processors to evaluate signals from all sensors in real time and creates a model of the car’s surroundings, able to speculate on upcoming manoeuvres (what Audi calls “taking a look into the future”).
The systems developed for the impending implementation of autonomous driving are already partly in use on the new A4 and Q7, in such situations as traffic jams.
The other parts of the autonomous driving equation are the way a vehicle communicates with infrastructure and other road users. Germany has designated a section of the A9 (which run between Munich and Berlin) as ideal for testing the way the car interacts with road signs. It is also used to communicate traffic conditions to other road users, helping them avoid potential problems and making traffic flow more smoothly.
The infrastructure along that stretch of highway is also being fine-tuned to effectively work with the car’s sensors from even greater distances, allowing the zFAS more time to plot its driving manoeuvres, as well as allowing traffic signs to allow the vehicles to better localize their positions with higher precision.
In 2017, the city of Ingolstadt (where Audi is headquartered) will be studying construction materials and imbedding of sensors to allow better exchange of information between car and infrastructure, with testing expected to begin in 2018.