Rise of the machines continues: driverless Audi RS7 returns to the track

Published: 16 July 2015

Driverless Audi RS7 laps Sonoma track in US
Faster than some human drivers, says Audi
Production Audi A8 will feature ‘piloted’ mode

Cast your mind back to October 2014: you might remember Audi proudly showed off a prototype driverless RS7, which carried out an autonomous high-speed lap of the Hockenheim circuit without anything so unreliable as a human controlling its braking, acceleration or steering. It lapped the circuit accurately ‘to within centimetres’, according to Audi. An impressive demo of driverless technology, or another ominous nail in the coffin for driving freedom, depending on your point of view.

Well, it’s back. Or rather, there’s a new, improved version. The Hockenheim car was codenamed ‘Bobby’ – now meet Robby, its successor. Apart from packing more advanced software and sensor tech, Robby is a massive 400kg lighter than Bobby, and packs the same 552bhp punch.

What’s Robby been up to, then?

It’s just lapped the 2.5-mile Sonoma Raceway circuit in California in 2m01.1sec, a time which Audi’s man in charge of brake and steering assistance tech, Thomas Müller, describes as ‘better than those of sports car drivers.’ Presumably to preserve their modesty, he doesn’t mention who the drivers were, or what particular sports cars they were driving.

‘We took the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept to its physical limits lap after lap, and it handled the task with uniform precision,’ Müller adds.

Click here to read CAR’s review of the regular, human-controlled Audi RS7.

Good for Robby. What’s the relevance to production car technology?

Audi says the sensor, data processing and vehicle control and stabilisation technology developed as part of Robby’s robotic trackdays is building knowledge that will directly influence series production systems. One of Audi’s separate test mules, an Audi A7 codenamed Jack, is capable of driving autonomously on autobahns at speeds of up to 80mph.

First production fruit of the engineers’ labours comes in the new-generation Audi A8, due in 2016. It will feature a ‘piloted driving’ function, where the car will be able to stop, go and steer by itself in stop-start motorway traffic at speeds of up to 37mph, in addition to a more familiar self-parking function. Autonomous and semi-autonomous pulling away, halting and lane-changing in traffic is gradually becoming a more widespread function in high-end production cars, notably on the current Mercedes S-class and certain versions of the VW Passat.

Click here to read CAR’s original story on the ‘Bobby’ RS7’s Hockenheim stunt.

By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, occasional racer