While many automakers, including Audi, are currently testing autonomous cars on public roads and test tracks in Europe, Japan and the U.S.A., Audi today became the first to demonstrate a driverless car at race speed on a racetrack in front of thousands of spectators.
An Audi RS 7 "Piloted Driving" concept completed a full lap of the Hockenheimring Grand Prix circuit before the start of the season's final DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) race.
It took the car just over two minutes to navigate the 4.6-km course with accuracy precise to within centimeters. In testing at the track, the car was said to reach speeds of up to 240 km/h.
The proof-of-concept vehicle uses specially corrected GPS signals transmitted via WiFi and a redundant high-frequency radio signal for orientation.
In addition, images from 3D cameras in the car are compared against a data set stored on board and processed along with the GPS data to enable the car to choose its own path on the track.
According to the company, test runs like this at the car's physical limit are providing Audi engineers with insights for the development of driver-assistance technologies such as automatic avoidance functions.
But this demonstration suggests other possibilities as well. Could the future bring races that are pure engineering exercises – without any drivers in the cars?
Just imagine a field of 33 driverless cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway running 500 miles at their absolute limit while automatically keeping from crashing into each other. Perhaps even making automated pit stops without human involvement.
Could racing really become a way to develop autonomous technologies for the real world?