Audi driverless car hits 140 mph

Audi's driverless racecar
Audi's driverless racecar

An Audi RS7 performance car reached 140 miles per hour on a racetrack Sunday -- with no one behind the wheel.

The RS7 Piloted Driving Concept successfully lapped the Hockenheimring racetrack in Germany at high speeds using only computers and sensors to guide it, Audi said.

Audi and other automakers have previously shown off automated driving technologies, but those systems have operated at normal road speeds. Operating at high speeds presents a different set of challenges.

Plans called for no other cars on the track at the time, but the car was operating close to the limits of its own performance capabilities. Such speeds require rounding corners as quickly as possible without skidding or driving off the track, and finding the best possible path through each curve.

To do that, the car uses an ultra-precise positioning system that will allow it to know its own exact location on the track moment by moment.

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The ability to turn in the best possible lap time on a track is more than just a fun trick, according to Audi. It has important implications for safety.

"We have to be able to manage extreme situations and that's what we are demonstrating here," said Ulrich Hackenberg, board member for technical development at Audi, prior to the test.

When operating without a driver on real roads, a car may have to respond to emergencies in ways that require high-speed maneuvering. That will require precise sensors, fast computers and complex, flexible programming.

Audi was the first automaker to receive a license for autonomous driving from the state of California. The Audi RS7 has a 560-horsepower engine and a top speed of nearly 190 miles per hour.

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