The car is meant to showcase what Volkswagen Group's premium brand can handle on a German autobahn unlike Google's prototype which is being tested in slow urban traffic in Silicon Valley's Mountain View in California Audi's other driverless car "Robby," an RS7-based concept, was designed to lap Germany's Hockenheim race track at up to 240kph (150mph).
Klaus Verweyen, Audi's project leader for piloted driving, told me that maximizing the car's top speed was not a development task. "No one asks German railways what a train's the average speed between Munich and Berlin, they just want to know that it takes them about six hours to get there,” he said.
The car's protocols don't allow it to exceed the occasional speed limits dotted throughout riskier stretches of the A9 that links Bavaria to the nation's capital. On the plus side, I was guaranteed not to get a traffic ticket.
Automated driving is not a function permanently available whenever you feel like engaging it, however. First you punch into the navigation computer a route and then the vehicle uses a plausibility analysis based on map data to determine whether the necessary conditions are met for autonomous driving as its directives dictate. When the car is on the highway, a friendly female voice indicates that piloted driving is now available.
To activate the system, a deliberate movement is required: each thumb has to press on a button on two steering wheel spokes on the right and the left, averting the chance of accidentally triggering it. A bar of soft blue light spreads along the dashboard signaling the car is now steering itself.