Audi and Mercedes Racing Towards Autonomous Driving
Last month we reported on Audi’s autonomous lap of the Hockenheim racing circuit in an RS 7 Concept vehicle, which raced around the track in a time equivalent to that of a professional racing driver. At this year’s Los Angeles Motor Show, the manufacturer also revealed its new concept vehicle, the Prologue, which showcases the exterior for the autonomous A8 that Audi aim to make available in 2017.
Also hoping to be the ‘first to market’ with a self-driving car is Mercedes, who recently showcased its vision of how the interior of an autonomous vehicle will look in the future. The auto-maker has already driven its S 500 Intelligent Drive research car on public roads in Germany, and is continuing research and development to improve the technology for urban conditions as well as highway driving.
Mercedes-Benz Interior Concept. Source: Daimler
Mercedes-Benz revealed its interior concept at the TecDay "Autonomous Mobility" event in California earlier this month, and it provides a glimpse into how Mercedes see the future of interiors when vehicles no longer need to be driven.
The concept treats the interior of the luxury autonomous saloon as a 360o virtual experience, and the design is based on the freedoms that autonomous driving will bring: more space, more time, and more ways to interact. The pivotal feature is the four rotating lounge seats, which enable a face-to-face configuration. Mercedes aim is to make the interior a ‘digital living space’ which is fully networked as part of the intelligent vehicle system. Occupants will be able to intuitively interact with the vehicle by means of gestures and touch displays; while the system will use sensors to detect eye hand and finger movements to recognise the wishes of individual passengers for information or the selection of control functions. The vehicles surroundings, including pedestrians, other road users and local buildings, will also be brought into the interior and portrayed as fluid all-round information on displays.
Mercedes also revealed that it is to begin testing of autonomous vehicles at the decommissioned Concord Naval Weapons Station, in California. It is the largest test site in America, and features a 20-miles network of roads similar to that of a city, which makes it ideal for testing autonomous cars in realistic conditions. The company have already demonstrated autonomous driving in Europe with the S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle, which covered the 100km between Mannheim and Pforzheim in 2013 – the same route that Bertha Benz took on her famous first long-distance automobile drive in 1888.
Audi Prologue. Source: Audi
The Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept car, nicknamed ‘Bobby’, that lapped Hockenheim demonstrated how close the manufacturer is to developing fully autonomous vehicles. The car was able to precisely navigate its way around the 2.8 mile circuit at high speeds, taking the ideal line on each of the 17 corners to complete the lap without incident.
The technology that enabled this success is specially corrected GPS signals, which allow the car precise orientation. Images from the on-board cameras are compared in real time against graphical information in the car. The comprehensive networking and the highly-precise control of all driving related actuators on board, ensure that the car remains under control, even when driving at its limits. Project manager of the team behind the concept vehicle, Peter Bermiller, said, "The insights we gained from piloted driving at the limits are worth their weight in gold for production-ready piloted systems".
Those production-ready systems could be just around the corner with the next-generation A8, which is set to be Audi’s first fully autonomous vehicle. Stefan Moser, Audi Head of Product and Technology Communications, told Motoring that the 2017 A8 will be fully autonomous and capable of driving on its own. The system will feature a combination of cameras, radar, and laser which will act as its ‘eyes’ to ensure that the car works in all weather conditions.
Audi aim to be the first automaker to produce a fully autonomous vehicle, but while the technology is all-but ready, the automotive world may have to wait for legislation to catch up. In Germany, for example, cars are only legally-allowed to drive autonomously for short periods of around ten seconds; and while some states in America are beginning to relax legislation, both Google and Mercedes are still content to use private sites for testing to avoid current ‘public road’ rules.
Audi also confirmed this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, that the next-generation A8 will be based on the design of the new Prologue concept vehicle (pictured above) which was unveiled at the show. The new styling is the first concept of new Head of Design, Marc Lichte, and will form the basis of the design for the A8.