As anyone who has ridden shotgun around a race track in a fully race-prepared sports car will tell you, the experience of being driven at speed around a race track by a fully-licensed race car driver is both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, especially if there are other cars on the track.
Hopefully, your chauffeur’s years of experience and knowledge of the track means you’ll get back to the pits in once piece. It’s the same skill which helps them win races, shave off milliseconds of time on every lap, and push themselves and their car to the absolute limits. Human and machine, operating as one.
Yet yesterday, German automaker Audi demonstrated that you don’t need a highly-skilled human driver to lap a race track at breakneck speeds by sending a fully-autonomous RS 7 around the Hockenheimring Grand Prix circuit in Germany without either a driver or a passenger.
Fitted with Audi’s latest self-driving technology, the self-driving car — nicknamed ‘Bobby’ by some of the team at Audi — was beamed accurate GPS location data via a stationary WiFi point to ensure that it could handle each and every turn with pinpoint accuracy. In addition, 3D cameras fitted to the RS 7 compared what the car was able to see with a pre-prepared virtual track stored in its memory banks. And while that means the RS 7 was only able to drive the track after being prepared by Audi’s specialist Piloted Driving team, we think that a self-driving car hitting speeds of up to 150 mph by itself on a tight race track is pretty impressive.
While the car took just over two minutes to circumnavigate the course, the self-driving RS 7 isn’t far off the lap-times of a human driving a similarly powerful R8.
With cameras fitted inside and outside the car, Audi’s on Television Channel captured footage of the lap as the car’s on-board artificial intelligence lined itself up for each and every corner with the precision of a human race-car driver, meeting every braking point, turn-in and apex with impressive accuracy. The result is an amazing demonstration video which not only highlights how incredibly accurate the RS 7 was, but also the incredible potential autonomous driving technology has to change the way we travel.
Of course, we’re not suggesting that Audi — which is already testing its Piloted Driving technology on the roads of California at slightly more normal speeds — is about to lay down a future where our cars drive themselves to work at race-track speeds. But as a technological demonstrator, we think Audi’s latest public demonstration of self-driving technology highlights just how far the technology has come in the past decade — and how far it could go in the future.
There’s just one question we’d like the answer to: would you want to be a passenger in the RS 7 at that kind of speed without a human at the wheel?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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