Sandra Schink steht vor Hütte Jack, dem A7 piloted driving, gegenüber

My date with Jack

Audi A7 piloted driving to the test

Jack is a sturdy kind of guy: big, sporty, elegant. His size certainly makes him stand out, though he still maintains gentlemanly restraint. He is the kind of guy who makes you feel that he doesn’t need to blow his horn to be noticed. This guy radiates assuredness. Because he can be sure to safely reach his destination without hustling or exaggerated hectic. Does that sound like the man of your dreams? Jack’s a car.

Jack has everything it takes to really show off. The Audi A7 Sportback has a phenomenal amount of power under his hood and can achieve up to 240 km/h (150 mph) on the freeway. But somehow the broad shoulders of this special A7 just don’t seem to be so important. You only get a real feel for his strengths if you let him take charge. Jack is not only great to drive. He also drives himself.

Jack is a research car. His trunk is filled to the top with the high-tech that is soon to be installed in the new Audi 8 in the practical zFAS, the central driver assistance control device: everything that Jack needs to calculate and analyze the wealth of information he receives from his camera, radar and laser sensors and then take the right decisions – in real time.

Jack fährt pilotiert auf der Autobahn.
Jack has already shown a lot of journalists what he is capable of – like here on a test drive. Maximum speed of 130 km/h is possible.

An Audi with personality

So, today I have a date with Jack. When Audi invited me, I had to smile. After I agreed, Agnes Happich, the Head of Online Communications, wrote: “Please give my regards to our gentleman Jack, won’t you?”. I remember an interview I had with Dr. Thomas Müller in 2014. At the time, the Head of Development for Automated Driving told me about the first unmanned test drive of Jack’s predecessor, Bobby, on the racing tracks.

About the slightly uneasy feeling that started to spread when Bobby first disappeared on his own at full throttle from our engineers’ sight. About the joy and relief we felt when he returned unscathed and drove fast and confidently across the finishing line. “The first thing we did was to stroke the roof and tell him: Hey, good job, Bobby! Nice, that you’re back!” Apparently, this is inevitably the way one speaks when dealing with cars that take their own decisions. You talk about them the way you talk about your friendly colleagues.

Sensorik des Audi A7 piloted driving im Kofferraum

Loads of technology: Information, which the Audi A7 absorbs through its numerous sensors, is processed in the computer aggregate in the trunk.

Rendezvous with watchdogs

The date with Jack takes place, albeit, on the edge of the freeway. That doesn’t sound very romantic, true, but with a car that has been optimized for the freeway, this makes sense. And, of course, I won’t be alone on a date with this gentleman. Sandra Schmidt is a development engineer for automated driving functions and she explains the displays and commands to me.

From the front passenger seat, she will step in to correct inappropriate behavior when she feels this is necessary – irrespective of whether it is Jack or me misbehaving. Dr. Miklós Kiss will be sitting behind me on the rear seat. The Head of Predevelopment for Automated Driving will be there to answer any questions I may have about Jack.

In the Audi A7 piloted concept, the driver becomes the co-driver

Everything is rather unspectacular to begin with. I am still in control of Jack and steer him onto the A9 freeway at Allershausen, direction Munich. But I have hardly entered the freeway when Jack offers to take over. I am to lean back and enjoy the ride. Okay, he doesn’t exactly say this. Instead, the display in the cockpit says “piloted mode available.” The countdown has started, the sound of a gong can be heard.

Sandra Schink steht vor Hütte Jack, dem A7 piloted driving, gegenüber
Cautious approach with a throbbing heart: Guest author, Sandra Schink, meets Jack – the piloted driving Audi A7 – for the first time.

I press two buttons on the steering wheel, then I let go and take my foot of the accelerator. And continue to drive. The steering wheel retracts a little to give me more space. Jack is at the helm.

It only feels unfamiliar for a few seconds. I expect a swerve, a jerk, something to appear out of control. But the Audi A7, Jack, confidently holds his position. He reacts immediately after taking control to a car swerving into our lane just in front of us and brakes so gently to maintain an appropriate distance to the driver in front that it doesn’t interrupt the drive flow.  If I had been driving, I would have stepped harder on the brakes – and cursed the driver of the delivery van in front of me.

Jack’s laid-back attitude is catching

Jack’s composure rubs off on me. I am not continuously looking to see whether I can overtake or whether a car in front of me is switching onto my lane, which I would otherwise do on a three-laned freeway. I don’t feel like I need to be prepared for all contingencies that could occur on a drive on the freeway. I am the co-driver. Sitting in the driver’s seat.

Instead, I engage in a lively discussion with my fellow passengers, only using the rearview mirror to look at Dr. Kiss while he is giving me an explanation about Jack. We continue to glide along, only seldom reaching the maximum speed limit of 130 km/h permitted for piloted driving on these busy roads up to the Neufahrn intersection.

Jack overtakes where he can, and he does this smoothly and serenely. He changes lane, brakes and accelerates – all in a flowing motion that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve myself if I had been driving. My driving style is far too sporty, even where this makes no sense and is tiring.

Jack fährt pilotiert auf der Autobahn.

Jack has taken over the helm and is driving in piloted mode on the freeway. Relaxed and controlled

Driver, you take over!

Before we reach the freeway intersection, I have to take back control. Two minutes before taking over Jack informs: “Please prepare for manual driving.” I focus my attention back on what is going on around me, take a look at the display and at the sat nav, which shows the end of the autopilot stretch before turning off onto the A92 towards the airport. Dr. Kiss is cooler than I am: “We still have time. That was just the pre-announcement. The countdown, 15 seconds before the change of mode, comes later.”

This is nearly too long for me. I’m nearly absorbed back in conversation when Jack announces: “Piloted mode will be deactivated in 15 seconds. Please take over driving.” The display on the dashboard is still green, at 10 seconds it turns orange and the countdown can be clearly heard. I wait a moment until it turns red before grasping the steering wheel that Jack has already returned to its original position.


Highly automated doesn’t mean autonomous yet

Highly automated? Fully automated? Autonomous? So what exactly is the difference? The international association of engineers and automotive experts, SAE, has issued a new standard, J3016, to help differentiate between the various development stages and capabilities of the cars, thereby making it easier for the legislator to better adapt the laws for automated vehicles. No doubt, this standard is useful, but the detailed classification of levels is rather complicated and sometimes the boundaries are not clear-cut.

In the future, there will be four kinds of cars, whose degree of automation has been subdivided into five different levels. To distinguish between these five levels it is important to grasp the difference between the longitudinal and lateral control of a vehicle: driving forward and backwards is longitudinal control, driving sideways (or steering) is latitudinal control.

  • Manual driving – Level 0

Manual means that a vehicle does not have any assistance systems at all. The driver drives, brakes and steers the car by himself.

  • Assisted driving – Level 1 and Level 2

The assisted driving option is split into two levels.

At Level 1, assisted driving, the assistance system can either take over longitudinal OR latitudinal control. One example of this is the emergency brake assistant Audi pre-sense, which automatically performs an emergency stop if someone runs in front of the car. This is now a standard feature of every new Audi.

At Level 2, semi-automated driving, the assistance systems can, at the driver’s request, take over both the latitudinal and longitudinal controls. However, the driver maintains mandatory supervision. He must stay alert and be in a position at any time to immediately resume control of the steering wheel. The traffic jam assist with the ACC (adaptive cruise control) function is an assistance system that can take control of the car at travelling speeds of up to 60 km/h if there is congestion on the freeway and can accelerate, brake and steer under these conditions.


You can see what milestones Audi has already achieved in piloted driving here.

  • Piloted driving – Level 3 and Level 4

Piloted driving is also been subdivided into two levels. At Level 3, highly automated driving, the driver can relax a bit more, like I did with Jack. This means that the car can take over the driving function – for large stretches of road, including for instance sections earmarked for this on the freeway.

The driver can watch films or check his emails, but he must stay so alert or awake that he could take over the driving functions again if the car requests him to do so. For example, when he recognizes that the limits of his system have been reached. With Jack, this was also, for instance, the case with roadworks. Since these sites can vary considerably, a human driver needs to reassume control and is given early notice of this. And the car is not able to change freeways by itself either.

At Level 4, fully automated driving, the car is programmed to deal with all contingencies in a specific environment and can independently manage any situation that arises. With Jack, who is specifically being optimized for freeways, this means that he could easily drive through roadwork sites and also change freeways independently. Another scenario will be the parking garage pilot: If the parking garage is set up for this, then we can leave the car and the car will be able to find its own parking space.

  • Autonomous driving – Level 5

Level 5 is the ultimate goal for developers: At Level 5, a vehicle doesn’t need a driver anymore. It is familiar with all road situations; it is prepared for all contingencies and can drive anywhere by itself. Once developments have reached this stage, then we will probably not even need a driver’s license anymore.

Infografik Sensoren, Kameras und Scanner Audi A7 piloted driving concept

The Audi A7 piloted driving concept draws on information from a number of sensors, cameras and scanners during piloted driving.

I look forward to relaxing driving times

I like driving, but today I realized that I like to be driven, too. I often hear “I’m not going to buy car to then let myself be driven! Nobody needs that!”

I am continuously reminded of my great uncle Peter with whom, as a child, I loved to go for a ride in his beautiful old tail fin with its red leather seats and white-varnished steering wheel. I remember how, with a wink of his eye, he mocked his neighbor for having installed newfangled power steering in his new car. “Power steering, that’s just for little girls!” he laughed and prodded me.

Then I watched him as he maneuvered his heavy car with the gigantic steering wheel, huffing and puffing, into a parking space. It took several attempts until we could then finally go into the ice-cream parlor. The automation of driving tasks will not deprive us of the fun of driving, but it will disencumber us of everything that’s no fun and a waste of time.

Saving time through piloted driving


Excessively long car rides, shilly-shallying in stop-and-go traffic, looking for parking spaces – in the near future this will all be a thing of the past. Perhaps there won’t even be any congestion anymore, because the vehicles will all flow along nicely together and the man-made causes of traffic jams just won’t exist anymore.

If I feel like driving again and the stretch is suitable and free, then I’ll take control again and, with a guy like Jack, fly at some 240 km/h over the freeway. Because I’m well rested and can really enjoy the car. But, actually, who says this is even a guy? Jack has a female voice. Perhaps Jack is an abbreviation for Jacky and this highly intelligent vehicle is, in fact, a real lady? Who knows!

Thanks for this relaxed date, Jacky.

Lenkrad von Jack
The interior of the Audi A7 piloted driving concept. As soon as the driver needs to take control of the steering wheel again, Jack politely steps in.
Audi A7 piloted driving concept
Audi MediaCenter

A look into the future: Audi customers experience piloted driving on the A9 autobahn

Piloted driving on the autobahn – Audi is already providing the public with an insight into the mobility of the future. With demonstration drives on board an Audi A7 piloted driving concept, selected brand customers and fans will get their first experience of piloted driving on the A9 north of Munich.

Read more

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Consumption and emission figures of vehicles on this page:

Audi A7 Sportback: Combined fuel consumption in l/100 km: 6.3 – 4.7; Combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 167 – 122. Figures on the fuel consumption and the CO2-emissions vary in case of given ranges depending on the used combination of wheels/tires. //