The new Piloted Drive concept is based on the Q7 SUV

German automaker Audi has revealed a new Piloted Driving concept at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. Developed in cooperation with Nvidia, which provided artificial intelligence for the self-driving car, the new Piloted Driving model is based on the Q7 SUV and brings Audi’s autonomous system closer to production stage.

The autonomous SUV is the fifth concept in a long line of Piloted Driving experimental vehicles that goes back to 2014. It all started with RS7, which was also used to lap the Nurburgring, and in early 2015 the German company unveiled a similar vehicle based on the Prologue concept. Later that year, Audi rolled out a version based on the now-discontinued R8 E-Tron electric supercar, while 2016 brought an improved version built around the A7 sedan. In 2010, a very early version of the system was used in a TTS that piloted itself up the Pikes Peak course.

The Q7 Piloted Driving is a more advanced version of Audi’s upcoming autonomous system, using new "deep learning" technology for handling real-road complexities. The vehicle uses what Audi describes as "neural networks" and "end-to-end deep learning" on Nvidia’s latest artificial intelligence platform to navigate complex road courses. The Piloted Driving concept can learn from both the road and the driver and can now handle all sorts of upredictable scenarios, including roadblocks, construction sites, and changes in weather.

Displayed in the Gold Lot, adjacent to the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the vehicle was showcased performing several laps around a closed course, with the configuration of the track modified in the middle of the demonstration. Audi says it will expand testing of the Piloted Driving technology on public roads in California and select states in the U.S. before launching the world’s first vehicle to meet standards of Level 3 automation (as defined by SAE International) to the market.

This won’t happen until 2020, but meanwhile Audi will introduce Traffic Jam Pilot, which uses a central driver assistance controller, with NVIDIA hardware and software, in the next-generation A8. This system will give drivers the option to turn over steering, throttle, and braking functionality to the vehicle at speeds of up to 35 mph when certain conditions are met.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

Audi Unveils New Autonomous Concept At CES, Promises Production Model in 2020 Exterior
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Although Audi isn’t the only carmaker working on an autonomous car, Ingolstadt’s Piloted Driving system seems to be the most advanced. With more than six years of experience with self-driving platforms, there’s a good chance that Audi will actually become the first company to deliver a fully functional autonomous passenger car that’s safe in just about any environment. The Piloted Driving concepts have become better and better since the RS7 was launched in 2014, and the fact that the latest iteration is based on the Q7 is a sign that there won’t be just one autonomous nameplate, but a version for more models in the lineup. Which will come first is a mystery as of this writing, but it’s safe to assume that the A8, A7, and Q7 are among the main candidates.

Read our full review on the Audi Q7 here.

Press Release

Audi announces a partnership with NVIDIA to use artificial intelligence in delivering highly automated vehicles starting in 2020. Deep learning technology will enable skilled handling of real-road complexities, delivering safer automated vehicles earlier.

Audi and NVIDIA are long-time partners, merging the best of automotive engineering and visual computing technologies on Audi innovations such as Audi MMI® navigation and the Audi virtual cockpit. Later this year Audi, will introduce the world’s first Level 3 automated vehicle equipped with a first-generation central driver assistance controller, or zFAS, that integrates NVIDIA computing hardware and software.

“Audi drivers know the pinnacle of performance and technology,’’ said Scott Keogh, President of Audi of America. “In our mutual pursuit for safer roads, the partnership between Audi and NVIDIA will expand to deep learning and artificial intelligence to bring higher automation into production more quickly.”

Audi Unveils New Autonomous Concept At CES, Promises Production Model in 2020 Exterior
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“NVIDIA is pioneering the use of deep learning AI to revolutionize transportation,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, Founder and CEO of NVIDIA. “Audi’s adoption of our DRIVE computing platform will accelerate the introduction of next-generation automated vehicles, moving us closer to a future of greater driving safety and new mobility services."

Keogh and Huang announced their companies’ collaboration during the opening keynote of CES 2017. To showcase their progress, Audi and NVIDIA developed an Audi Q7 piloted driving concept vehicle, which uses neural networks and end-to-end deep learning on NVIDIA’s artificial intelligence platform to navigate a complex course. The vehicle learns from both the road and the driver in every mile it travels and can handle unpredictable situations like roadblocks, construction and changes in weather. This demonstration illustrates the power of end-to-end deep learning and how it will be one of many neural networks running simultaneously inside of an artificial intelligence car.

Audi Unveils New Autonomous Concept At CES, Promises Production Model in 2020 Exterior
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Demonstrations of the Audi Q7 piloted driving concept vehicle are available to media in the Gold Lot, adjacent to the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, throughout CES. The vehicle relies on its trained AI neural networks to recognize and understand its environment, then drive safely around the track without any computer programming. With no driver behind the wheel, it performs several laps on a closed course, where the configuration of the track will be modified in the middle of the demonstration. The course features a variety of road surfaces including areas with and without lane markings, dirt and grass, as well as a simulated construction zone with cones and dynamic detour indicators.

Audi will expand testing of highly automated, artificial intelligence-equipped vehicles on public roads in California and select states next year. As it has throughout its research of automated vehicle opportunities, Audi will maintain a spirit of transparency with state and federal regulators in the U.S. as it conduct its artificial intelligence testing and eventual vehicle system deployment to the public.

Audi Unveils New Autonomous Concept At CES, Promises Production Model in 2020 Exterior
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In parallel to delivering artificial intelligence solutions for complex urban driving, Audi brings to market this year the world’s first vehicle to meet the standards of Level 3 automation as defined by SAE International. The next generation Audi A8 will feature Traffic Jam Pilot, which uses a central driver assistance controller, or zFAS, with NVIDIA hardware and software. This system will give drivers the option to turn over steering, throttle, and braking functionality to the vehicle at speeds of up to 35 mph when certain conditions are met, aiding Audi drivers during their often stressful freeway commutes.

Audi has been at the forefront of automated driving since 2005 when its engineers with Stanford University won the DARPA Grand Challenge. In 2010 Audi and Stanford piloted a self-driving TTS up Pikes Peak with no human inside, completing the 12.42-mile mountain course in just 27 minutes. To kick-off CES 2015, Audi, accompanied by journalists, achieved a 566-mile test drive in an autonomous A7 named Jack, traveling from Palo Alto, California to Las Vegas with more than 500 of those miles hands-free at full highway speeds.

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