Audi’s second self-driving RS 7 blitzes California racetrack

Last fall, Audi sent a self-driving RS 7 prototype named “Bobby” around Germany’s Hockenheimring. Now, the German carmaker has built “Bobby” a little brother.

Audi brought a second car, named “Robby,” to California’s Sonoma Raceway, where it lapped the 2.5-mile circuit in 2:01.1. Development engineer Thomas Müller said the car turned in lap times that “were better than those of sports car drivers.”

Compared to the original self-driving RS 7 track car, “Robby” has the advantage of being 400 pounds lighter, with the same 560 horsepower output as its predecessor.

Both cars use GPS signals to orient themselves on a given track, and cameras to provide more precise situational awareness. The cars’ software compares images from the cameras to a locally-stored database of images to help them find their exact position. Commands are then transmitted to hardware that controls the steering, brakes, and acceleration, and can be as ferocious as any human driver, Audi says.

“Robby’s” sibling, “Bobby,” lapped the Hockenheimring at speeds up to 240 kph (149 mph). Audi said the car was set up to take corners like a professional race driver, and even generated cornering forces of up to 1g on the German circuit (without, of course, getting dizzy).

Audi also built a road-going autonomous A7 named “Jack” that drove from California to Las Vegas for CES earlier this year, covering over 500 miles with some help from human drivers. It then drove autonomously on German autobahns (albeit at a fairly restrained speed of 80 mph), and gave demonstrations in Shanghai traffic during CES Asia 2015.

Stunts like these are great for generating publicity, but could also help bring autonomous cars one step closer to showrooms. Audi says the tests are “yielding valuable knowledge for series-production systems,” including sensors, data processing, and vehicle control systems.

All of that knowledge will be put to use in the next-generation A8 sedan, which will be the first Audi production car with the ability to drive itself. Instead of blitzing racetracks, though, the A8 will pilot itself in stop-and-go traffic at speeds up to 60 kph (37 mph), and will also maneuver itself in and out of parking spaces.

That’s not quite as exciting as what the RS 7 prototypes are doing, but those aspects of driving are probably something human drivers will be more willing to leave to machines.

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