Audi completed a long-distance test drive of its Audi A7 Sportback semi-autonomous concept vehicle, finishing the journey at the International CES 2015 consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. The “piloted driving” — Audi’s take on combining autonomous driving with individual control — began in Stanford, California and ended two days and 560 miles later on January 6, 2015.

The Audi A7 Sportback arrives in Las Vegas, following the 560-mile, “piloted” drive. (Image Credit: Audi)
Selected journalists were able to experience the piloted driving in 100-mile stints in various traffic situations on public highways. As required by state laws in California, an experienced Audi test driver watched from the passenger seat.

The Technology

A high-resolution 3D video camera looks ahead from a front position near the Sportback’s rear view mirror. The single-camera vision system determines the size and position of objects in an image, and then calculates distance from the vehicle.

Proprietary software algorithms are supplied by Audi’s Jerusalem, Israel-based automotive partner Mobileye, a developer of camera-based Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Mobileye’s algorithms and EyeQ® chip, made by STMicroelectronics, interpret the visual field in order to anticipate possible collisions. The software works with the monocular camera system, and navigational data provides general orientation.

The Audi A7 3.0 TFSI quattro piloted driving concept, nicknamed “Jack,” also utilizes various sensors that detect the vehicle’s surroundings. Long-range radar sensors, part of the adaptive cruise control (ACC) and Audi side assist (ASA) systems, monitor the area ahead of and behind the car. Mid-range radar sensors, both at the front and the rear of the vehicle, are directed to the left and right, providing the Sportback with a 360-degree view of its environment.

To recognize static or dynamic objects, laser scanners are integrated into the front Single-frame grille and rear bumper. Four smaller cameras at the front and rear of the vehicle provide short-range information of the surrounding area. The wide-angle 3D video camera, which will first see production in the new Audi Q7, observes a vehicle’s nearby traffic.

The automated driving system of the vehicle is designed to be activated on specific roads and specific traffic conditions: freeways and highways. The concept allows autonomous driving from 0 to 70 mph, and is not intended for rural or off-road use.

The car can initiate lane changes and passing maneuvers as well as accelerate and brake independently. Before moving to an adjacent lane, the vehicle aligns its speed to nearby vehicles. If the speed and distance calculation is deemed safe, the vehicle initiates the lane change.

When the automated driving system is active in the automated mode, the technology controls steering, braking, acceleration, as well as object and event detection and response. The automated driving system can be overridden by pressing activation and deactivation buttons, the gas or brake pedal, or the steering wheel, returning the driver to active control of the car’s motion.

In situations where the vehicle reaches its limits — in a busy city environment, for example — warning signals are activated: colored LEDs in the windshield base, messages in the driver information system, and an acoustic prompt. If the driver should ignore all of the warnings, the system will activate the hazard flashers and bring the car to a standstill in its current lane.

Self-Driving Cars at International CES 2015

Mercedes-Benz debuted its F015 Luxury in Motion self-driving car at the 2015 Consumer Electronics show. The zero-emission, plug-in, hybrid-car car concept also uses sensors and 3D cameras, and allows passengers to interact with the vehicle using gestures and eye tracking.

BMW demonstrated the BMW i3 research vehicle’s ‘Remote Valet Park Assistant.’ The ‘Assistant’ uses laser scanners and a digital site plan to steer a vehicle independently to and from a parking space.

The Volkswagen e-Golf concept vehicle, showcased at CES, uses a camera, mounted in the base of the rearview mirror, to scan a frequently used path into a parking space; the parking process can then be executed semi-automatically and precisely by sensors and computer.