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Audi pulls the curtain back on his self-image car program



Of all luxury cars, Audi has been the most aggressive when it comes to putting semi-autonomous technologies in its production cars. (See the A8 sedan, a version that can not be sold in the US thanks to its semi-automatic features.) The German car manufacturer offers a talk of efforts to build completely careless cars as well as one of the partners who say it will helping to set self-propelled cars by road by 2021.

Audi, owned by the Volkswagen Group, has recently committed itself to spending almost $ 16 billion on electric mobility and self-propelled technology through 2023. Much of the work will take place by Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), a wholly owned subsidiary of Audi.

The group was founded one and a half years ago, and today around 1

50 employees. The head office is located in Munich, where it also has 12 autonomous test vehicles operating on public roads. Most test vehicles are VW Golf hatchbacks, which speak to AID's key role as the urban autonomous driving technology provider for all Volkswagen Group brands such as VW, Audi and Porsche.

Alexandre The Hague, the Group Chief Engineer, said that AID is Audi, since Cruise is for General Motors, or Argo is for Ford. But instead of acquiring an external company to launch its AV program, the German machine was trying to build its self-propelled team from scratch.

"Our goal is to develop the full Level 4 stack," said The Hague The Verge . (The Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 4 as a car that runs from start to finish in a specific designated area.) "The first application to be a robo taxi," The Hague added, "and in the long term, the whole group of self-driver tables for owner-occupied vehicles, lorries, buses, food deliveries … all in the long run. "

Like most AV programs, the Audi department uses software and deep learning-based approaches to processing all sensing data retrieved from its series of sensors, such as LIDAR bullets, camera pixels and radar queues. These perception data model the car's environment, both near and far, by detecting objects, vehicles, pedestrians and other challenging obstacles.

That said, Audi is not as advanced as other automakers in developing and distributing automated cars. Waymo, the self-propelled division in Alphabet, just launched a very limited commercial robotic taxi outside Phoenix, Arizona. GM says it will reveal its own rides search in San Francisco in 2019. Audi aims to distribute its robotic display in scale in 2021, the same year targeted at Ford for its service.


"Frankly, I think there's a little shot out there," said The Hague. "I think we are still some way from real scaling … I have a high opinion about Waymo, but I think [GM’s] Cruise is hyping a little more. I think they have a good team and are on a good track, but I are sure if they get out of 2019, it's going to be very marginal, very little. Maybe a dedicated lane, landings, a few miles or something like this. But being able to do the whole of San Francisco, or just Market Street, I really do not see this in next year. "

Having said that, The Hague recognized the challenges of developing completely car-free cars, something he said all car companies are currently grappling with. Perception, or the car's ability to "see" and correctly identify nearby objects, is incredibly difficult, which predicts what these objects will do.

"Getting 90 percent [in perception] is simply," said The Hague. "Getting 95 percent starts to be interesting, and then you have to go far beyond that. Nine points nine nine nine nine … Adding each nine is ten times more difficult. When you're 95 percent, you've just been scratches on the surface. "

In order to increase its efforts, Audi follows some new suppliers to help with these challenges of perception and prediction. On Tuesday, AID announced that it would work with Luminar, a Palo Alto-based boot that makes LIDAR sensors and perception software for autonomous vehicles. Luminar supplies Volvo and Toyota Research Institute, as well as several other automakers it has not revealed yet. LIDAR, the laser sensor that sends out millions of laser points per second and measures how long they take to bounce back is seen as an important ingredient for autonomous driving.

The Hague said he was impressed with the range and point-sky density of Luminar's LIDAR. "If you have a stronger sensor, it will make your task task easier," he said. "And this is where Luminar comes in." AID's vehicles will use Luminar sensors for slow perception and detection, as well as shorter range of LIDAR made by Velodyne for denser objects.

"It's a big win," said Austin Russell, CEO of Luminar. His company has been working with Audi for over a year, but is only now ready to talk about his partnership. As a relative beginner to self-drive, Russell said that AID is more scary than other AV operators who have been working on technology for a decade or more.

"These guys do not necessarily need much luggage to be obsessed with software stacks that have been developed from previous years on different sensing types," he said. Other operators can be beaten down with "inheritance that prevents them from being smooth and moving easily to new platforms, like ours," adds Russell.


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