Audi concept car completes lap of Hockenheim without a driver.

The drive to create autonomous vehicles is nothing new; it’s something that has been researched for many years now. It seems, however, that autonomous vehicle projects have really managed to gain traction throughout 2014. This incredibly exciting year has seen the creation of vehicles that show astounding leaps in vehicle technology; with breakthroughs varying from Google’s first purpose built autonomous car to self-driving commercial vehicles.

It goes without saying that the ‘Dawn of Driverless cars’ is a topic that divides opinion and can be cause for debate – bringing to boil feelings of either excitement or worry. It seems that this debate is at its hottest within the automotive industry and amongst car enthusiasts. In a bid to catch the hearts of enthusiasts, Audi set themselves the challenge of sending an autonomous Audi RS7 around the Hockenheim circuit at full racing speed.

The car took to the track at the weekend as a warm up for the DTM finale. The thousands of crowd members watched in amazement as the self-driving RS7 put together an aggressive lap that demonstrated perfect racing lines and driving reminiscent of a professional racing driver. The perfectly driven lap that was put together by the Audi Piloted concept car took just over two minutes with straight line speeds reaching 140mph.

The car itself is the product of years of work that started with an autonomous Audi TT that managed to complete the Pikes Peak hillclimb as well as a fast run on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2009. Since the TT, Audi have worked tirelessly to create a car that could complete a competitive lap on a race track.

Unlike normal vehicles, that use a collection of ECU’s to deal with each of the cars separate functions, this autonomous concept aims to further development on using a single central ECU to control all of the cars functions - effectively replicating the human brain. The central ECU can use the information it collects, from all aspects of the car, to make decisions on the appropriate action in any given scenario. Talking about this new ‘brain’ Horst Glaser, Audi’s chassis development boss, told Top Gear:

“The ‘brain’ works in tandem with a central sensor unit…they speak to each other and compare each other, and if there is a different calculation result the car will shut down…It will hand back to the driver and if the driver doesn’t react the car will slow down and stop by itself.”

The Audi piloted concept will lend some of this, now proven, technology to the next generation Audi A8 that is set for release in a few years. Giving the new A8 autonomous driving technology will not create a totally self-driving car that requires no driver input; instead it will open up the ability for features such as auto-parking and self-driving in traffic. When asked about completely autonomous cars Glaser responded:

“Maybe that’s a goal for the future…but in our opinion that’s not possible now. There must be an infrastructure beyond the car itself…”

Glaser also remarked that Audi do not look to replace driver enjoyment and as such, when the technology drips down from the A8, only the appropriate vehicles will benefit from Piloted Technology.