Meet Robby. Robby is the autonomous Audi RS7 that just completed a 2 minute, 1 second lap of California’s Sonoma Raceway. Audi claims this time is faster than any human has ever managed in an RS7. This is right on the heels of Robby’s twin brother, Bobby, lapping Germany’s Hockenheimring in a similar time. These autonomous RS7 twins are properly quick.
Robby and Bobby are engineering exercises for Audi to help develop its autonomous driving program. All of the sensors and software that Audi will use for autonomous cars in the future have been slapped in these RS7s and sent around racetracks. Robby is just the latest of such testing. Without a single human driver on board, Robby was able to lap Sonoma time after time, clipping apexes perfectly and hitting speeds of up to 149 mph. “He” did this until the 2 minute, 1 second lap was completed. “We took the Audi RS 7 piloted driving concept to its physical limits lap after lap, and it handled the task with uniform precision,” Audi driver assistance systems manager Thomas Müller said
This is mightily impressive and the sort of thing that proves autonomous cars to be closer to reality than we previously might have thought. While it would be more impressive to see a couple of these Robby types on the track at once, so we can get a preview of what they can do when forced to drive fast with other cars around them, this is still an impressive achievement.
The achievement is even more impressive given that these autonomous cars are quite a bit heavier than the standard version, as they’re fitted with quite a bit of extra sensors and cameras and computers. So to put in a lap time faster than a human can do in a lighter car means that the computers are able to execute perfect driving lines and braking maneuvers time and time again. That’s the shocking bit, that a computer can out-drive racing drivers with years of experience. It’s actually somewhat creepy.
But a stunning accomplishment for Audi and Robby. Hopefully, we’ll see more autonomous projects like this and then maybe we can put them all on a racetrack together and see what happens.