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Audi e-tron goes all electric

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It is all electric, as Audi unveiled its e-tron prototype SUV, the first completely electric vehicle from the company at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

The Audi e-tron prototype offers a preview of the first all-electric model from the Audi brand. The camouflaged exterior conceals a sporty premium SUV with space for five people along with plenty of luggage room – the space and comfort are similar to that of a typical Audi luxury class model.

With a range suitable for longer journeys and the comprehensive charging options planned to be available, customers can drive purely electrically without making any compromises. The production version of the Audi e-tron prototype can fill up electricity at fast-charging stations with up to 150 kW of charging capacity in just under 30 minutes.

The production version of the Audi e-tron is planned to be launched to the European market at the end of 2018, when more details about the vehicle will be revealed. The car is produced at a carbon-neutral plant in Brussels.

The launch of the Audi e-tron, sets an important milestone for Audi’s future. In 2020, the brand plans to have three all-electric vehicles in the product range, with a four-door Gran Turismo – the production version of the Audi e-tron Sportback concept – and a model in the compact segment joining the sporty SUV. Audi plans to launch more than 20 electric cars and plug-in hybrids by 2025 – spread across all segments and concepts.

Showcasing high-voltage technology: behind the prototype’s design camouflage

The Audi e-tron prototype does not wear the traditional prototype camouflage, but instead illustrates its electrification genes with a specially developed design film in the colours of black, white and orange.

The distorted e-tron lettering stretches across the entire flank, as if it was charged with electricity. The “e” winds its way around the tailgate at the height of the front fender and is literally electrifying. Mimicking the high-voltage grid, orange elements illustrate the fact that the Audi e-tron prototype is fully electric – the lower part of the car, for example, is encircled with alternating orange and black segments. The expressive sills, with their colourful inserts, indicate where the battery and energy center of the car is located.

Four continents, more than five million kilometres: testing under extreme conditions

Up until the Audi e-tron is officially launched at the end of the year, the sporty SUV will complete test drives on four continents as part of its testing. Whether it’s in the cold temperatures of Scandinavia or in the heat of Africa; in the mountainous altitudes of Asia or on the north loop of the Nürburgring; in the stop-and-go traffic of major Chinese cities or on American highways – the purely electrically powered SUV has to prove its all-round qualities in uncompromising practical tests under extreme conditions.

Audi is testing the pre-series vehicles for customer-focused operation in all climate zones ranging from below -20 to above +50 degrees Celsius. In addition, intensive tests of the charging technology are being conducted worldwide – an important safeguarding criterion for battery-electric models. The individual charging standards are tested on proving grounds and in public areas to validate the full range of different charging options.

In total, just fewer than 250 Audi e-tron prototypes are to be used in the tests. They will cover more than five million kilometres – roughly equivalent to 125 times around the earth and 85,000 hours on the road.

Hunting down the prototype in Geneva: a pre-launch campaign

Prior to the world premiere, part of the Audi e-tron test fleet will be out on public roads wearing the electrifying camouflage design. The distinctive prototypes made their first stop in Geneva, driving past prominent sites in the Swiss metropolis as part of the 2018 Geneva Motor Show activities. The public have been encouraged to photograph the prototypes in its designer livery and post their scoop photos on social media using #etron. Audi will publish the best pictures on the website at www.e-tron.audi, without any hide-and-seek.

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Project Bloodhound saved

The British project to break the world landspeed record at a site in the Northern Cape has been saved by a new backer, after it went into bankruptcy proceedings in October.

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Two weeks ago,  and two months after entering voluntary administration, the Bloodhound Programme Limited announced it was shutting down. This week it announced that its assets, including the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (SSC), had been acquired by an enthusiastic – and wealthy – supporter.

“We are absolutely delighted that on Monday 17th December, the business and assets were bought, allowing the Project to continue,” the team said in a statement.

“The acquisition was made by Yorkshire-based entrepreneur Ian Warhurst. Ian is a mechanical engineer by training, with a strong background in managing a highly successful business in the automotive engineering sector, so he will bring a lot of expertise to the Project.”

Warhurst and his family, says the team, have been enthusiastic Bloodhound supporters for many years, and this inspired his new involvement with the Project.

“I am delighted to have been able to safeguard the business and assets preventing the project breakup,” he said. “I know how important it is to inspire young people about science, technology, engineering and maths, and I want to ensure Bloodhound can continue doing that into the future.

“It’s clear how much this unique British project means to people and I have been overwhelmed by the messages of thanks I have received in the last few days.”

The record attempt was due to be made late next year at Hakskeen Pan in the Kalahari Desert, where retired pilot Andy Green planned to beat the 1228km/h land-speed record he set in the United States in 1997. The target is for Bloodhound to become the first car to reach 1000mph (1610km/h). A track 19km long and 500 metres wide has been prepared, with members of the local community hired to clear 16 000 tons of rock and stone to smooth the surface.

The team said in its announcement this week: “Although it has been a frustrating few months for Bloodhound, we are thrilled that Ian has saved Bloodhound SSC from closure for the country and the many supporters around the world who have been inspired by the Project. We now have a lot of planning to do for 2019 and beyond.”

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Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

The futuristic car technology of tomorrow is being built today in both racing cars and
toys, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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