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Audi: Driving fun in a driverless future

The Audi R8 Spyder: Putting the 'driver' in driverless (Photo: Audi)

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Stephan Giesler
Stephan Giesler

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Hello, automated driving community! Audi’s DRIVERless commercial, Voyage’s public safety announcement and the French connectivity: we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

If I were to tell you that the recently released Audi USA commercial depicts a businessman being chauffeured in a fully autonomous vehicle in a futuristic metropolis, you would probably think it’s for the latest concept car or Audi’s own autonomous driving unit. Wrong. It’s the latest spot for the 2018 R8 Spyder; 532 Horsepower of pure racing machine (see video below). But that’s not all: it also serves as a loud and clear message for Audi’s autonomous driving vision.

“Drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested.” The words of American journalist and author, Hunter S Thompson. It perfectly captures the long-standing romanticism that so many associate with driving: the freedom of the open roads, the spontaneity and not least, the intrinsic pleasure to be taken from the act of driving itself (let’s just forget the not get arrested part!)

As the protagonist sits in the back of his autonomous vehicle, he reminisces about the good old days when “driving wasn’t just about being taken from place to place, but going somewhere; feeling something.” He then goes home and rather rebelliously unleashes his R8 onto the roads with him behind the wheel. At first sight, this is somewhat surprising – since it seems to contradict the ubiquitous image of the great new world of autonomous driving. At second sight, it delivers a strong promise which we have found to be key for the success of automated driving: “You will stay in control. You will be the one to decide whether you’ll be chauffeured or you’ll be driving, even in the distant future.”

A message that cleverly picks up both sides of the discussion, both under the one roof of the Audi brand – all wrapped up in a beautiful piece of cinematography. Marketing communication doesn’t get much better than this. Kudos!

Autonomous altruism

I wanted to avoid entirely any reference to the recent fatal crashes this week: but alas, I haven’t managed. All I’ll say again is that the industry is clearly in a position where it must regain the public’s trust when it comes to the safety of autonomous cars. Hopefully Voyage – the self-driving car spin-out from Udacity – went some way to doing that last week.

The company announced that it is open-sourcing its autonomous driving safety practices to help startups implement better safety-testing practices and to hopefully act as an industry standard. Documents, safety procedures and test code will all be made available to the public and other companies via a GitHub repository: information as to how to validate components like sensors, the code used to trigger failures in hardware and software so as to test out real-life scenarios and much more.

As Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron tweeted: “Each and every autonomous vehicle startup today has to define their own safety programs, and we think that is dangerous”. I would tend to agree: safety practices do need standardized, but in order to win back public trust, they must also be transparent. And you can’t get much more transparent than inviting anyone with an internet connection to access the library, peruse the materials and make contributions.

The French connection

In November last year, PSA Peugeot Citroën and Chinese tech company Huawei announced a partnership “dedicated to building a Better-Connected World by connecting all people and all things together” – in the words of Eric Xu, rotating CEO of Huawei at the time. Well they’ve now connected the DS 7 Crossback to the cloud, and it’s about to be launched in China.

While this announcement isn’t exactly remarkable in and of itself, it represents somewhat of a ground swell in the whole connectivity sphere. As the ‘autonomy’ aspect undergoes increasing scrutiny, the ‘connectivity’ aspect of future mobility seems to be roaring along: connected systems like Amazon’s Alexa Skills as standard in production vehicles, not to mention connected services like having your Amazon package delivered directly to your car.

But perhaps connectivity’s ‘public perception’ test is yet to come. Central to realizing the full potential of connectivity is the issue of data privacy, and in today’s climate (Hello Mr Zuckerberg), consumers are more aware than ever of the value of their data. For more on this, check out our focus topic infographic.

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),                         

Stephan Giesler

Editor-in-Chief, 2025AD

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