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Unmanned Audi TTS ascends Pikes Peak - Web Exclusive

The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak research car achieved its initial goal of completing the course without stopping and without a driver behind the wheel.

Nov 19, 2010

The unmanned Audi research car completed a non-stop ascent up the legendary 12.42-mile rally race route at Pikes Peak in Colorado in September and the result was certified by the organizers of Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

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The Autonomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak research car achieved its initial goal of completing the course without stopping and without a driver behind the wheel.

The research car - jointly developed by Audi, Stanford University, the Volkswagen Group Electronics Research Lab and Oracle - conquered the challenging route, which serves as the venue for one of the world's most thrilling races each June.

In September, the Autonomous TTS 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 it 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 45mph.

The car ran the complete course five other times during the week-long test, 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. 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," said Dr Burkhard Huhnke, director of the Electronic Research Lab, "the goal was 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 US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The Autonomous TTS reflects the ERL-Stanford strategy of conducting research in tiers that 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, to a challenging course like Pikes Peak.

When research began just over a year ago, the direction was clear: employ emerging software, algorithms and electronics to help 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.

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"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 TTS 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.

Using the standard Java programming model and memory management functionality, developers were able to program the Autonomous Audi TTS to differentiate processes based on their importance and precisely determine when time-critical functions should be executed.

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 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 world a generation ago thanks in part to the distinctive quattro technology, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

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.



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