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Unmanned Audi TTS to Tackle Pikes Peak Hill Climb

Chances are you'll see a white Audi TTS storming its way up Pikes Peak in the next year, but you may surprised at its driver -- or lack of one, actually. Students from Stanford University, collaborating with Volkswagen, are prepping the autonomous Audi to make a run up the 12-mile hill climb course in Colorado.

The TTS is outfitted with approximately $100,000 worth of GPS, communications, and control equipment, most of which is mounted where the rear seats and cargo area once stood. Although VW and Stanford have worked on driverless cars before (notably for the DARPA challenges), the Pikes Peak endeavor is interesting because the TTS will actually be driven briskly.

Other teams have sent driverless vehicles up the mountain before, but they've never negotiated the 156 corners -- some of them quite tight -- at speeds above 25 mph. Stanford's TTS -- named "Shelly" in honor of Audi racing driver Michele Mouton -- will tackle the course as if it were running a race, possibly approaching the TTS' 130-mph top end.

At that pace, tackling corners -- especially those in dirt surfaces -- will truly test the autonomous system. Driving on simple courses is one thing, but blending turn-in, countersteering, throttle, and brake to achieve the perfect drift without falling off the mountain is something completely different. In order to program the car as best as they can, Stanford students will have the TTS driven up the mountain by a human before finalizing the software and setting it off for a solo run.

Impressive, but the aim of the project isn't to push a car into production that doesn't rely on human control. "If we can design a car that can autonomously go up Pikes Peak," said Kirstin Talvala, a student working on the project, "we can design a car that can take over when a driver falls asleep."

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