Piloted driving takes centre stage at Audi's CES presentation

January 07, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Carmaker Audi opened the Consumer Electronics Show with a particular bang: A sedan prototype drove all the way from the Silicon Valley to Las Vegas under computer control. Journalists were admitted to take the driver's seat but could relax and watch the sensors and algorithms to steer the vehicle across the 550 miles drive. At CES, the manufacturer showcases innovative approaches to infotainment, HMI, and connectivity.

"Jack", as the electronic chauffeur of the A7 piloted driving prototype was nicknamed, can autonomously change lanes and pass other cars. Its radar, lidar and optical sensors enable the vehicle to identify its position in relation to other traffic participants. The two-day ride from the Volkswagen Electronics Research Lab in Stanford (Volkswagen is Audi's parent company) to the fairgrounds in Las Vegas has been conducted for the first time under "customer conditions", as Audi Board Member Ulrich Hackenberg put it.

Though still a prototype, the sensors used were near-series versions: Two long-range radar sensors (associated to the ACC) observe the area in front of and behind the vehicle, assisted by two mod-range radar sensors each to both sides which complement the 360° all-round vision. The two laser scanners in the radiator grille and the rear apron provide redundant information - necessary to gain a complete, detailed multi-source 3D image of static and dynamic objects. A high-definition 3D camera at the windshield and four additional cameras at the front and rear corners of the vehicle provide additional information about the near surroundings, and all these information is blended in a complex multi-step data fusion algorithm that eliminates false echoes and identifies speed and direction of moving objects.

All data related to the vehicle's environment detection and automated driving functions run on a computer called zFAS, the German acronym for zentrales Fahrerassistenzsystem or central driver assistant system. In future versions, these environment data will be transferred through an ultra-fast data link to a cloud-based IT backend. There they will be proceesed by Machine Learning and artificial intelligence algorithms and fed back to the vehicle. Thus, the vehicle will constantly be learning to improve handling and driving style in complex situations. At the same time, the expertise gathered will be shared with other drivers.

zFAS, Audi's central driver assistance system runs the essential algorithms for piloted driving.

The CES presence of the carmaker