A 900-hp race car can climb Pikes Peak in 10 minutes, a sports car such as the Audi TTS can make it in 17 minutes in the hands of an expert driver, and Audi’s self-driving TTS completed the 12.42 miles to the summit in 27 minutes. With nobody driving. In less than a decade we’ve gone from self-driving DARPA Challenge vehicles having trouble navigating the desert to a modified production car with autonomous driving tweaks that averaged almost 30 mph climbing one of America’s most treacherous roads.AdChoices广告In late summer, the robotic Audi TTS made six runs on the Pikes Peak course. The project was marred by a Sept. 17 Audi helicopter crash that injured four people on board who were trailing and filming the TTS as it neared the top of the 14,100-foot mountain. The runs were made official just this week by the organizers of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. They certified the time to complete the run, the speed on various segments (including an average of 45 mph on the only unpaved part of the course), and also that no drivers were on board. In addition to the record-setting run, the Audi TTS made it to the top on its five other runs, “only pausing briefly on its own to confirm its reading of route data,” not a bad thing since there are places where there’s no guardrails protecting against the drop-offs on Pikes Peak. The Autonomomous Audi TTS Pikes Peak car was a joint project of Audi, academic researchers, and private companies. The yearlong project involved the Volkswagen Group’s Electronic Research Lab in Palo Alto, Calif.; Stanford University; and Oracle. Oracle provided its Java real-Time System (Java RTS) and Oracle Solaris. While there are GPS antennas and vision systems onboard unlike anything in passenger cars, Audi made it a point to retain the safety and navigation systems in a stock Audi TTS. Audi’s Goal: Smarter and Safer Drivers, not Driverless Cars For many automakers and university researchers, the car the drives itself is a goal on par with the once-and-future flying car. Except that isn’t really the goal or Audi – or other German automakers who can’t, so far, envision life without a driver involved in controlling their fine pieces of machinery. But they love the idea of technology that makes car and driver smarter. Dr. Burkhard Huhnke, director of the Electronic Research Lab, said, “The goal is to improve driver safety and save lives by creating extremely robust electronics.” Others point out that self-driving cars in reserved lines on limited access roads could tailgate, safely, and at least double the capacity of urban interstates at rush hour. All without building a single new road. Next Step: The Need for Speed Audi says its next step is to make self-driving cars go faster on paved surfaces. For that work, Audi is scoping out racetracks where it can conduct its testing.