Audi puts self-driving car on diet to persuade politicians

Audi has revamped its self-driving car, trimming the fat on the autonomous RS 7 racer as it continues to court politicians in the US. The newest model, dubbed Robby and decked out in a striking red and black color scheme, keeps the autonomous hardware – which Audi refers to as "piloted driving" – of its predecessors, but goes on a serious diet to improve performance. In fact, the company says, it has trimmed 882 pounds from the self-driving prototype.

That brings Robby more in line with the regular, human-driven RS 7 that's available in showrooms today. Both cars have 560 HP, which Audi used to set a 2:01.01 minute lap time on the 2.5 mile Sonoma Raceway in California.

As we saw when we went head-to-head with one of Robby's earlier iterations on the racetrack in Germany last October, Audi's system uses a blend of cameras, GPS, and differential GPS to figure out whereabouts the car is on the track to within 1-2 cm.

A pair of stereo cameras on the front of the RS 7 work as the car's eyes, comparing the lines of the track to a "best route" programmed into its memory. If the two deviate, the car can adjust in real-time.

While Robby might be happy whizzing around the famous California track on its own, Audi gave it some passengers in the shape of a number of US regulators and politicians. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes went along for the ride, as Audi continues its political lobbying to encourage more roadways where autonomous vehicles might be permitted.

Last year, the company drove a prototype down one of Florida's main expressways, though the road was closed to other traffic at the time.

The first sign of piloted drive tech in production cars will come in the new Audi A8, which will offer a "Traffic Jam Pilot System". It won't quite be up to autonomous three-figure speeds on race tracks, however; instead, the system will take over driving when in "congested highway traffic" at speeds of up to 37 mph.