His name is Bobby, and he’s a really fast driver. Actually, Bobby is a robotically controlled Audi RS7 piloted driving concept that drives as well as some pro drivers, and he got to show this to the world on Sunday.

It happened before the start of a DTM race when Bobby and another RS7 sports sedan with driver at the wheel were turned loose on Germany’s Hockenheimring. The RS7 with no human in the car this time went five seconds quicker at speeds up to 150 mph during a lap of just over two minutes.


An RS7 is a $105,795 extra high-performance version of the A7 and above the S7. It’s powered by a 560-horsepower, 516 pound-foot torque 4.0-liter V8 and uses an 8-speed automatic. It’s been praised for its balance and truly upping the level beyond the already competent A7. Its fuel economy is EPA rated at 16 city, 27 highway.

The 4,400-pound car has been timed as quick as 0-62 in 3.5 seconds, and done the quarter mile at 11.6 seconds at 123 mph. Audi has had its specially prepped autonomous version up to 190 mph, and Bobby proved eminently capable of the run at Hockenheim.

Audi’s dramatic demonstration of “piloted driving” as it calls it got everyone‘s attention, but the the two-minutes of glory came after 10 years of work on the safety oriented technology. The division of Volkswagen AG says piloted driving is one of the most important development fields it hopes to see in commercial use ASAP.

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Therefore the hot lap perhaps most of all is hoped to gain the attention of regulators who are in position to greenlight public autonomous driving.

“The top performance by the Audi RS 7 today substantiates the skills of our development team with regard to piloted driving at Audi,” said Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for Technical Development at Audi AG. “The derivations from series production, particularly in terms of precision and performance, are of great value for our further development steps.”

Audi predicts if permitted by authorities, the first consumer oriented systems could be ready in a few years. Autonomous adoption is projected to be an $87 billion market a decade and a half from now, and several other automakers are in a race of their own to win.

Fast And Smart

The RS7 with no human at the wheel is a thinking car. Bobby got a map of the track with only left and right boundaries defined, and it was up to his on-board computer to determine the best line.

A low-2-minute lap is well slower than the 1:33-34 done in qualifying by the track-prepared Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) at the Hockenheimring, but places it squarely in league with some of the world’s faster well-driven production cars. The record for the GP circuit is 1:48:50 by a Porsche 918 Spyder, and a number of performance cars have done low 2s such as the BMW M3, Mercedes C 63 AMG, and Porsche 911 Carrera.

Following is a briefed explanation and previous test drive:

To orient the RS7 on the track, it used specially corrected GPS signals transmitted via WiFi according to automotive standards and redundantly via high-frequency radio. In parallel to this, 3D cameras in the car film the track, and a computer program compares the cameras’ image information against a data set stored on board.

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“This is what makes it possible for the technology pioneer to orient itself on the track within centimeters,” says Audi.

Redundancy is built in as an effort to provide a fail-safe car. The whole idea is to improve safety, and a car that careened out of control causing property loss, injury or death would undoubtedly send shock-waves into the technology’s acceptability.

Challenges Remain

But really, while a new benchmark has been set, the Audis had the run of the road with no vehicles to avoid, pedestrians to not hit, and countless other random things that could cause an accident on public roads.

Factors such as those can add enormous complexity to the proposal to unleash cars that drive themselves en masse. One car is one thing. How hundreds or thousands per day could manage the clogged streets of a town like Manhattan is quite another.

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A year ago at the ITS World Congress, developers threw a wet blanket on the prospect of widespread acceptance of fully autonomous cars after years of being bullish and predicting its imminent arrival.

Hurdles cited include huge projected costs, connectivity barriers, liability questions, regulatory unknowns, lack of universal industry standards, and other technological limitations.

Whether these can be worked out, and how soon remains to be seen. In the interim, building blocks leading toward fully autonomous vehicles such as self-parking, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, automatic braking, and more are expected to be rolled out in production cars.

The hope for advocates is society’s comfort zone will increase as semi-autonomous technologies whittle away at unnerving aspects and remaining barriers.

A long version of the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept at Hockenheim follows. (Actual drive begins around 14:20).