Sleeping behind the wheel: test drive of the most intelligent Audi A7

Do you think drones are a picture of the distant future? You are mistaken! Such cars already exist, they drive, and are about to change the world of transport.

But just leave, please, jokes about “Zaporozhets”, which rides on a village rut without a driver thanks to a brick on the gas pedal. In the end, it has long become clear that unmanned vehicles have come seriously and for a long time. Now the development of autonomous vehicles is practiced by almost every self-respecting automaker. Even Russian KAMAZ and such not very specialized corporations as Uber and Lyft were connected. Therefore, these technologies are really paving the way for the future.

A lot is known about potential advantages of unmanned vehicles for humanity. This – and lower fuel consumption, and comfort for passengers, and more competent use of road infrastructure, and most importantly – security. But how will the driver of such a car feel if he is by and large not needed? To find out, we went to Munich, where we met a very interesting car – an unmanned Audi A7.

Jack, but not a sparrow

Yes, a car can have a completely human name. For example, our drone is called “Jack”. Audi has been developing it since 2013. During this time in the unmanned mode Jack traveled more than 100,000 kilometers, during which the developers made various technical changes. The project received support at the highest level – for example, in 2015, the driver of an unmanned vehicle drove the transport minister of Germany Alexander Dobrindt. And today we can ride on “Jack” and we.

If you imagine that an unmanned vehicle must necessarily remind an alien from the future, we hasten to disappoint. In appearance – nothing unusual. Jack is a completely standard Audi A7, which differs only in small squares of laser scanners in the front and rear, and a special coloring telling that the car can drive without a driver. There are already more changes in the interior. First of all – another steering wheel with special buttons designed to activate the autopilot, and on the front console under the “multimedia” – a small screen that tells about the selected mode of autopilot. About it, inform the instrument panel, and LED lighting on the bottom edge of the windshield.

Under the central box and in the anterior niche – special relays, responsible for selecting a particular function. Of course, this is a transitional solution, because we are driving a prototype, and this will not be the case in the production cars of the future. Well, the main “command center” of the unmanned Audi A7 is located in the trunk – there are computers responsible for the system. Alas, we were strictly forbidden to shoot them. But you can take it for a word, they occupy almost all the free space. True, yet. After all, according to representatives of Audi, a solution is already ready, thanks to which the entire control unit of the autopilot will fit into one small computer with a thickness of a laptop.

And what this Audi can? It turns out that quite a lot. I leave the airport in Munich and take a course on the A9 autobahn, where in Germany it is officially allowed to test unmanned vehicles. Initially, you have to manage the machine yourself, but every second the test site is getting closer. Here, the light indication under the windshield changes color to pleasantly turquoise, the corresponding panel lights up on the front panel, and the message “Activate autopilot is allowed” sounds from the speakers. I click on two small buttons on the steering wheel, the steering wheel drives off, and … nothing happens! The car continues to roll with the set 80 km / h, as if nothing had happened. “Do not be afraid, look back!”, Our escort from Audi encourages me. I look away from the road, turn around and … again nothing! We drive as if I’m not sitting behind the wheel, but on the back row. Sensations are very strange, and at first even uncomfortable: after all, you want to control what is happening on the road! But then you get used to them, because Jack rides neatly, and maintains a safe distance to the car in front, as well as lateral intervals.

Suddenly, our Audi A7 starts to accelerate and is gaining quite a decent speed – 130 km / h! What’s the matter? It turns out that everything is in order. Just Jack adapted to the surrounding conditions and the rhythm of the movement – this takes him about a minute and a half. Now the system works to its fullest, and goes in combat mode. And here’s the first overtaking! Our car itself includes a turn signal, rebuilds into the left row, bypasses a slightly sluggish burgher to Volkswagen, and returns to its lane. Quickly and safely! That would be the living drivers in Russia also went the same way as Jack!

And I meanwhile catch myself thinking that “Jack” would be very cool to work in a taxi. Imagine: a car that maintains good speed, does not listen on a Chanson trip, does not smoke and does not bother with obsessive conversations. Yes, and does not require a separate salary. In general, if not a full-fledged robot car, then a sort of Golem, which on the road can save the driver from the most tiring and boring work.

However, in the future the system of the UAV several times allowed small blots. In one case, the drones turned on the turn signal, apparently, first deciding that it was possible to overtake, but in time to think better. In another – after the rebuilding the car slightly shifted to the border of the occupied band. But we will not quibble: such actions can not be called gross blunders. In addition, we repeat, the unmanned Audi A7 is very, very safe. Well, and the reaction of the surrounding drivers so generally speaks for itself: when you greet them at once with both hands, their faces reflect a mixture of surprise and admiration.

You are not alone here!

During the trip we could not help mentioning the topic of competitors. It is known that unmanned vehicles are developed not only in Audi. It’s nice that representatives of the Ingolstadt company are not afraid of such questions, and are happy to answer them. However, do not say that it became clear what exactly is the advantage of “Jack”. Yes, the car perfectly rides on the highway, accelerates, brakes, overtakes, etc. But it should be noted that all this is already know how to compete – for example, Volvo, Lexus and Nissan. In addition, do not forget that this Audi A7 – not the newest project. For example, the Minister of Transport of Germany Alexander Dobrindt made exactly the same trip to “Jack”, like us, as early as 2015. And two years in the world of high technologies – this is a significant period. On the other hand, the Audi A7 Jack is a real unmanned vehicle, and not just a car with very advanced cruise control, like, say, Tesla. This means that during the operation of this function, the driver really has the right not to control what is happening on the road, which is a big step forward.

After about 40 minutes of driving on the autobahn in an unmanned mode, our acquaintance with “Jack” came to an end. How, really, everything ?! Alas, but this is so. Yes, and as a matter of fact, we saw the lion’s share of what this car can.

But what about the trips in the unmanned mode around the city, which we were waiting for? Alas, the Audi A7 Jack belongs to the so-called third class on the autonomy scale. This means that so far the car can easily move along motorways, performing the same actions as a regular driver. Coping with urban conditions – that is, having a large number of crossroads, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. – there will already be a fourth-class machine of autonomy. Well, someday the matter will necessarily reach the fifth class – that is, a completely unmanned vehicle, in which there will not even be a familiar steering wheel.

However, up to this point a lot of time will pass. After all, you need not only to perfect the technique, but also to understand the legislation, because of which the most problems arise. So everyone who believes that drones will deprive us of any drive from driving a car can exhale. Revolution in the near future will not happen. But the ability to take a breath right behind the wheel of a car while driving on the tracks can appear very very soon.