Audi has been playing around with autonomous cars for a while now, but stepped things up a notch by letting an RS 7 pilot itself around the Sonoma Raceway in California.
Whilst it might be driverless, this car does at least have a name. It’s ‘Robby’ and he’s packing the same 552bhp, from a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, as a human driver would get in the RS 7. The result means ‘he’ can be relatively competitive around the challenging 4.05km racetrack, setting a lap time of 2:01.01. If you’ve played one of the numerous video games Sonoma has featured in over the years, you’ll know it’s not the easiest of courses to learn. Thankfully, for the person who has to essentially ride shotgun to ‘Robby’ whilst he puts in the laps, his accuracy is faultless.
But is a lap time of just over 2 minutes at Sonoma competitive in the real-world? Well, the current all-time lap record stands at 1:20.683, set (curiously) in an Audi. Although this was back in 2000, the Audi in question was the all-conquering R8 prototype racer, and it had failed F1 driver Allan McNish behind the wheel. WTCC racers manage a lap time of around 1:47.00 on a slightly modified version of the Sonoma track, suggesting that ‘Robby’ is closer to the pace than you would expect. This isn’t the first time a driverless RS7 has taken to the track, however, with predecessor ‘Bobby’ setting a 2:10.00 lap time of the Hockenheimring late last year. That time actually proved to be quicker than could be set by a human driver.
What this proves is that Audi has developed technology to make effective self-piloting road cars. Or, is working on a way to remove the human element from its Le Mans programme. We’re more inclined to believe the former, even if the latter does sound curiously intriguing. Drone racing fantasy aside, we’ll see autonomous technology in the next Audi A8, which will be able to take control during parking, or even in stop-start traffic at speeds of up to 37mph. Whether that’ll include the full Audi experience of driving inches from the rear of the car in front, and refusing to indicate, will remain to be seen.