Step by step

Automated driving and autonomous driving are a key component of the Audi brand identity. Visions of tomorrow are the engine behind the company’s development of Audi technologies, which are today already incrementally laying the groundwork for what lies ahead.

By Birte Mußmann (copy) & AUDI AG (photo)

In the coming years, the terms automated driving and autonomous driving will be increasingly associated with mobility and road traffic. Although the second term is the logical extension of the first, it’s important to distinguish clearly between them. During automated driving, the person behind the wheel can still actively intervene and retains overall responsibility for operating the car, while in autonomous vehicles intelligent systems take full control of all functions. SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers) defines five levels of automated driving. The new Audi A8, for instance, meets the criteria for conditional automation as defined by the SAE’s Level 3. On freeways, the integrated Audi AI traffic jam pilot* will handle driving in slow moving traffic at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour. Drivers still need to keep their eyes on the road so that they can step in if the situation requires it. In future years, more pilot systems will go into series production until the technology matures to the point where cars categorized as Level 5 are on the roads. In this future generation of vehicles, pedals and steering wheels will be superfluous since passengers will not need to get involved with driving tasks.

To reach this level, experts at Audi have already devoted more than ten years to further developing automated technology demonstrators. Initially, concept cars are put through their paces for testing purposes. As a result of these developments, several spectacular test drives have been conducted on public roads, racetracks and even on salt flats. Thanks to what has been achieved with these and other milestones, innovative automated and autonomous driving technologies are no longer merely visions of the future but are gradually finding their way onto the roads.


Bonneville, USA

A white, driverless Audi TTS performs four-wheel drifts, inscribing the brand’s logo of four rings on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the U.S. state of Utah. The car subsequently completes a couple of longer laps. During the run, the Audi TTS, christened Shelley by the team, clocks speeds of over 200 kilometers per hour.


Pikes Peak, Colorado, USA

Shelley climbs the legendary Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains. Home to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC)—also known as the “Race to the Clouds”—which has been staged annually since 1916, the mountain is a firm fixture in motorsport. With help from students at Stanford University in Berkeley, the Electronic Research Lab tuned the concept car based on a Audi TTS to handle the altitude.

Thunderhill Race Track, Sacramento, USA

In 2012, Audi garnered its initial experience with the Audi TTS on a race track – Thunderhill Race Track north of Sacramento, California. The lap time on the roughly three-mile (nearly five kilometers) course was under 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The tests were focused on how a automated driving car behaves under high strain and in extreme conditions.


California and Nevada, USA

In 2013, Audi was the first carmaker anywhere in the world to receive permission to test cars in the U.S. states of California and Nevada.

Las Vegas, USA

Audi unveils the zFAS driver assistance controller for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). As the data hub for automated driving, this serves as the digital command center in Audi cars. Capable of complex networking, the zFAS boasts incredible computing power to process information.


Hockenheimring racetrack, Germany

On the racetrack, the Audi RS 7 automated driving concept proves that a driverless car can maneuver masterfully through all the course’s chicanes at high speeds. The car also drives its sporty credentials home at the Ascari racetrack in Spain. Additional test runs are conducted at the Sonoma Raceway in the United States and Spain’s Parcmotor de Castellolí in 2015.



San Franscisco to Las Vegas, USA

In a long-distance test drive, the Audi A7 automated driving concept car undertook a automated journey over some 900 kilometers of highway from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in January 2015.

Shanghai, China

Conditions are challenging for all road users in a megacity such as Shanghai. Streets are clogged with vehicles and traffic management can sometimes be confusing. The Audi RS 7 automated driving concept heads into the heart of the city’s congestion and passes this complex challenge with flying colors.


Berlin, Germany

During the annual Berlinale international film festival, the German capital on the Spree River becomes a meeting point for the film industry. In 2016, the stars enjoy a very special shuttle service. Audi A8 cars whisk them—as if by magic, since no chauffeur is present—directly to the red carpet. This is not down to special effects—innovative Audi technology is the secret.


Las Vegas, USA

Returning to CES, the brand with the four rings spotlights the Audi Q7 deep learning concept in Las Vegas, making the case for why artificial intelligence is a key technology for automated driving. Thanks to machine learning, the concept car is capable of familiarizing itself with driving tasks demonstrated by the driver and responding to its surroundings with the help of camera feeds. Using what it has learned without any other human assistance, the car navigates a circuit at CES that changes after each pass.

Barcelona, Spain

The new Audi A8 makes its debut at the first Audi Summit. With its style-defining design, top-caliber drivetrain solutions, touchscreen operating concept and many conveniences, the fourth generation of the model is an all-encompassing testimony to Vorsprung durch Technik. As the Audi A8 is the first production car to be fitted with the zFAS central driver assistance controller, it is able to support the use of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot.

Frankfurt, Germany

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show (IAA), the new Audi A8 was showcased together with the Audi Elaine and Audi Aicon.

Audi Elaine

According to the SAE categorization, the Audi Elaine is already in line with Level 4. Drivers of the concept car can, for instance, use the highway pilot to help take the pressure off over longer distances. An extension of the traffic jam pilot in the Audi A8, the highway pilot additionally allows automated driving at speeds of between 60 and 130 kilometers per hour.

Audi Aicon

The Audi Aicon is classified as a Level 5 vehicle—the highest category on the SAE scale. Pedals and steering wheel are nowhere to be seen in this car. Its revolutionary aesthetics, all-electric drive and maximum range of up to 800 kilometers are compelling.


zFAS*: The brain of the near-future’s highly advanced assistance systems and tomorrow’s automated driving is the central driver assistance controller (zFAS). The compact central processor uses the signals from a variety of sensors to create a digital 360° picture of the vehicle’s surroundings.

Audi AI: Highly networked, automated and electric—these are the characteristics that will define tomorrow’s Audi cars. Looking ahead, Audi AI will serve as the epithet encompassing a wealth of innovative systems that not only make drivers’ lives easier but simultaneously offer new ways of spending time on board. To make it happen, Audi AI harnesses strategies and technologies from the field of artificial intelligence as well as machine learning.

*The assistance systems and/or automated technologies described here are currently in development and not yet available in production vehicles. The Audi AI traffic jam pilot is optional equipment that is not yet on the market. To find out about exact dates when it will be on offer, please contact your Audi dealer. At present, piloted/automated driving is not street legal in most countries. In general, please bear in mind that assistance systems can only support drivers within the relevant system limits. The driver is at all times responsible for operating the vehicle and maintaining the necessary levels of vigilance.