The autonomous Audi TTS built by Volkswagen Group Electronics Research Lab, Stanford University and Audi has taken an important first step toward its ultimate goal: participating in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The self-driving TTS officially completed a test run – all the way to the 14,110 foot summit – earlier this year, clocking a time of 27 minutes, which is pretty good considering that race officials typically expect a human driver to do it in around 17 minutes.
12.42 miles uphill, with no driver behind the wheel. This is the achievement of the first autonomous vehicle built by an established manufacturer, the Audi TTS. And even if it didn't set a record when it comes to speed, it certainly managed to impress through its actions.
- The autonomous Audi research car completed a non-stop ascent up the legendary 12.42-mile rally race route in September
- Results certified by organizers of Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
- Motivation for the research is to develop technologies that could help motorists steer their way out of severe danger
The research car – jointly developed by Audi, Stanford University, the Volkswagen Group Electronics Research Lab in Palo Alto, Calif., and Oracle – conquered the challenging route up the mountain, which serves as the venue for one of the world's most thrilling rally races each June.
In September, the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak drove to the 14,110-foot summit in Colorado without stopping. Organizers of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the second-oldest race in America, certified that the Autonomous Audi TTS completed the twisting course. On the last remaining dirt section, which offered the sternest test of autonomous high-speed handling, the car reached speeds of 45 mph.
Five other times during the weeklong testing the car ran the complete course, only pausing briefly on its own to confirm its reading of route data.
Overall, the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak completed the mountain course in 27 minutes, as verified by Pikes Peak International Hill Climb officials. No human rally driver has completed the course in fewer than 10 minutes, despite driving cars that produced more than 900 hp. The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak generates 265 hp. Race officials told researchers they would expect an expert race driver on the course to finish in around 17 minutes in a car similar to the TTS.
The successful result proved that autonomous technology can handle difficult driving courses and conditions, engineers on the project said.
"By partnering with leading institutions in Silicon Valley we seek to bring innovative technologies into our vehicles and redefine what is possible," said Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, director of the Electronic Research Lab in Palo Alto, Calif., which co-developed the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak. "The goal is to improve driver safety and save lives by creating extremely robust electronics."
ERL and Stanford have been at the forefront of autonomous driving research for several years, including involvement in past DARPA Challenges sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak reflects the ERL-Stanford strategy of conducting research in tiers that thoroughly investigate technologies needed to perform different autonomous driving tasks ranging from low-speed maneuvering in urban environments to high-speed handling on varied road surfaces on a challenging course like Pikes Peak.
When research began on the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak research project just over a year ago, the direction was clear: employ emerging software, algorithms and electronics to help everyday drivers stay in control, and safely on the road, even during extreme driving conditions.
The aim of the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak research was to develop a technology that would enhance a driver's abilities, much as computerized systems of passenger jetliners assist skilled pilots.
"We are not trying to replace the driver," said Professor Chris Gerdes of Stanford University, "Instead we want to learn how the best drivers control the car so we can develop systems that assist our robotic driver and, eventually, you and me."
Working together, Audi, Stanford University, the Volkswagen Group Electronics Research Lab and Oracle developed a distinct engineering achievement. The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak integrates advanced algorithms, the Oracle Java real-Time System (Java RTS), Oracle Solaris and GPS with safety and navigation systems found in stock Audi TTS models to maintain control at a physical performance extreme.
Java and Oracle Solaris provide a significant advancement over traditional execution models in terms of reliability, transparency, debugging capability, programming model, predictable response-time characteristics, and cost. Using the standard Java programming model and memory management functionality, developers were able to program the Autonomous Audi TTS to easily differentiate processes based on their importance and precisely determine when time-critical functions should be executed.
"Oracle Java RTS is the first enterprise-class solution to formally address the issues of latency and unpredictable response times for Java applications and we're thrilled to be part of this research project," said Greg Bollella, chief architect, Embedded Java, Oracle. "For the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak, Java was used to acquire GPS position coordinates and distribute those coordinates to all of the other components in the system. It also served as the safety controller for the vehicle, responsible for gracefully bringing the car to a stop if any of the traditional systems malfunctioned."
Deciding on a location to prove the technology was an easy choice as the Pikes Peak route offered steep inclines, switchbacks and varied road surfaces for the autonomous Audi TTS to navigate. Pikes Peak is also the place where Audi technology became legendary in the rally racing world a generation ago thanks in large part to the distinctive quattro® technology, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary as a technological all-wheel-drive breakthrough exclusively on Audi vehicles.
The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak achieved this year's goal on the mountain. The next stage of the research project will involve autonomous high-speed handling on paved surfaces. The research team is evaluating race tracks where they can conduct the next phase of this research.
In keeping with all trials of the technology, the Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak research team worked with local authorities to conduct the mountain testing during closed-course runs that emphasized public safety.