Audi builds driver-less car for Pikes Peak

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Audi Autonomous TTS (click to enlarge)

Could racing cars driven by robots one day compete with the best F1 drivers in the world – and beat them?

Audi is investigating the technology and has built this ‘Autonomous’ TTS which it is considering sending up the infamous Pikes Peak hill climb.

Audi claims:

The Autonomous Audi TTS project is not aimed at making motorists, or the thrill of driving, dispensable. Instead, it is intended to explore the best capabilities of current and future driver assistance technologies to help Audi enhance the experience behind the steering wheel for future driver generations.

But executive director of the Electronics Research Laboratory Dr Burkhard Huhnke has high hopes for the technology:

We believe that developing a car that can perform as well and respond as rapidly as a ‘professional’ driver, like a race or rally driver, will eventually be able to drive its way around incidents in a way that a ‘normal’ driver couldn’t.
Burkhard Huhnke

May we one day see the famous Gary Kasparov-versus-Deep Blue chess match re-created on a racing track? How well would such technology work in an F1 car up against the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton?

It’s surely only a matter of time before someone tries it out. But I’m not sure watching a car driven by a robot could ever compare to the thrill of seeing a human tame the raw power of a racing car.

Even if Audi get their driver-less TTS to the top of the hill without it falling off, this is the Audi I will always associate with Pikes Peak:

Walter Rohrl, Audi Quattro S1 Pikes Peak (click to enlarge)

Images (C) Audi

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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22 comments on “Audi builds driver-less car for Pikes Peak”

  1. Wasn’t there a robot car chase scene in “I,Robot”? I could be wrong.

    I think it would be awesome to see the “best of the flesh” up against “tin cans”. It’s sci-fi dream isn’t it? I would be good though, to give those robots a personality, and a face, something we could humanly relate too, if we can’t relate to it, there’s not much emotion to get involved with, surely?

    I guess, only seeing the race in reality will give us the answers.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      29th November 2009, 16:37

      That’s right, Matthew H. And the prescient thing was that it was an Audi too.
      I remember seeing the film and being surprised that Will Smith (and some of the other police) drove Audis all of which had the ‘deep’ vertical grille styling which wasn’t actually on the market until getting on for two years later. Anorak moment, sorry.

  2. John Conner, please help!

    1. The Wireless internet provider we use at work is call Skylab.

  3. Top Gear BMW that needs no driver

  4. It would make crashing at turn 17 on lap 13 much more precise and easier, and would not risk harming the driver to boot!

    1. It could also get the crash right.

      I’m pretty sure Piquet was supposed to lightly tap the outside wall there. You, knowm just knock a front wheel off like so often happens in Canada too. Not to miss the crash, spin all across the track and then completely obliterate the car on the other side.

  5. I read an article about a similar comparison a few days a go on McCabism:

    He compares how a top driver like Hamilton can drive an essentially unstable car like the on-board computers control an unstable aircraft like a Eurofighter jet. While “mere mortal” humans are unable to control these machines and thus need to lose performance in an effort to keep control.

    1. This is extraordinarily interesting Pat, lets have some more similsr links.
      I think F1 Fanatic would gain a lot of interest with articles, like this one, about the inner functionings of different aspects of the F1 world.

    2. That is a very intersting article, thanks Patrickl.

    3. a top driver like Hamilton can drive an essentially unstable car like the on-board computers control an unstable aircraft like a Eurofighter jet.

      Very clever comparison – they used to say the same about how Schumacher’s team mates couldn’t drive a car that was set up for him.

  6. Shame there’s no video of the car in action. I’ve seen some of these computer controlled cars doing various challenges and I’m sure any passenger would need a strong constitution as they are very jerky…

  7. Something like chess lends itself quite nicely to computers because although the decision making is very abstract and territorial, the inputs (i.e. the current condition of the board) are discrete and finite in their nature.

    Controlling an unstable car with oversteer for maximum speed with no grip is very much a feedback system whereby the car should learn overtime how to deal with it (it must evolve). It’s very much a complex system.

    So the car must learn… problem is, you need to do this in real life and not on a computer. It’s possible, although just as you must train a human driving karts first, you must put this Audi machine on a simple dirt track first and then through it up Pikes Peak after it has learnt something first. Whether Audi are doing this or not I am not sure!

    1. Sorry, “throw it up pikes peak” not “through it up pikes peak”…. that doesn’t sound too healthy!

    2. There are already programs, built into ECU’s, that ‘Learn’ the track, in motorsport, an example would be Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha.

  8. Very different from a friend’s home made Cadillac-powered 4WD open wheel racer he used to race up Pikes Peak in the early ’60s. Then another local chap turned up to have a crack at it in several classes—flown back to the start line in helicopter–who won it no less than 19 times; that was ,of course, Bobby Unser.

  9. This brings me back to when I used to watch Knight Rider when I was very young…I dream of one day having three things in my own car of tomorrow:
    1. a car that could drive itself.
    2. a car that could have a real conversation with you.
    3. a “turbo boost” button that would allow you to jump over things…:)

    1. I liked the fact that KITT could never have a crash. I think it was mentioned in the pilot episode. So effectively Michael could drive KITT like a lunatic and KITT would detect traffic ahead and take control if required.

      I feel really geeky now. :(

  10. “How well would such technology work in an F1 car up against the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton?”

    It will never work I don’t think human being will watch F1 when it is driven by robots,only machines will watch them.

  11. keepF1technical
    30th November 2009, 9:42

    didn’t Williams send a driverless F1 car round silverstone back in the 90’s and get within a few seconds of a driven car.

    those were the days of active suspension and lap positioning so the car would know what settings to use coming up. And that was something like 15 years ago!

  12. Who would the Driver’s Championship points be awarded to? Thats what I want to know.

  13. Is Audi also involved with developing driverless vehicles for the US Military? I know there are a few manufacturers investigating such things.
    Also, is this a true driverless car, or is there somebody using a PSP sitting comfortably in Houston?

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