Game|Life Podcast: Papers, Please Developer’s Stunning New Adventure

obra dinn

Lucas Pope

WIRED’s own Angry Nerd Chris Baker returns to the Game|Life podcast this week! He’s downloaded the demo version of Return of the Obra Dinn , the next game from Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope, and he wants to tell Peter Rubin and me all about it.

Also on the menu: My early impressions of Sunset Overdrive for Xbox One (look for the review next week), and some discussion of the rising prices of classic videogames—news from last weekend’s Portland Retro Gaming Expo and some interesting thoughts from a well-known Japanese retro game retailer.

Game|Life’s podcast is posted on Fridays, is available on iTunes, can be downloaded directly and is embedded below.

Game|Life Audio Podcast

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Stephen Hawking Joins Facebook, Urges Fans to ‘Be Curious’

Professor Stephen Hawking on Sept 19, 2013.

Professor Stephen Hawking on Sept 19, 2013. Rex Features via AP Images

Stephen Hawking is exploring yet another bizarre and fascinating part of our universe that stretches the very idea of reality: Facebook.

On Friday, Hawking posted his first Facebook status update. “I have always wondered what makes the universe exist. Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit,” the renowned British physicist wrote Friday morning. “Our connections to one another have grown infinitely and now that I have the chance, I’m eager to share this journey with you. Be curious, I know I will forever be.”

Hawking’s page has been live since the beginning of October, but this is the first we’ve heard from—dare we say?—Facebook’s smartest new member. And though Hawking, who has ALS, may have missed the frenzy of the Ice Bucket Challenge, he didn’t miss the opportunity to post his own Ice Bucket Challenge video, which he filmed earlier this year, on his page. “Because I had pneumonia last year, it would not be wise for me to have a bucket of cold water poured over me,” he said, through his speech-generating device. “But my children, Robert, Lucy, and Tim gallantly volunteered to take the challenge for me.”

So far, Hawking’s page has garnered more than 900,000 likes, but that number is likely to exponentially grow when a biopic about Hawking’s life called The Theory of Everything premieres in the coming weeks. Starring Eddie Redmayne, it’s based on a book by Hawking’s first wife, Jane, called “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.”

Hawking doesn’t strike us as the type to join Facebook just to cash in on the buzz surrounding the movie, though. He generates a substantial amount of buzz on his own. Hawking fans from Pakistan to Canada flooded his page with welcome messages and notes about what an inspiration the 72-year-old scientist is.

In one day, Hawking also achieved the ultimate status symbol on Facebook today—a Like from Mark Zuckerberg, himself. Not bad for a newbie.

The Sobering Facts About Egg Freezing That Nobody’s Talking About

IVF treatment sperm being injected into human egg.

IVF treatment sperm being injected into human egg. Science Photo Library – ZEPHYR/Getty Images

A self-proclaimed geek friend once described Silicon Valley as a place where instead of going to the movies to watch a film, everyone takes a seat in the theater and turns around to look at the projector. The Valley is home to cross-disciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, doctors and inventors who wake up every day wondering how they’re going to master the impossible. When they have a prototype they find an equally enterprising storyteller to help them package and translate the benefits. Great things have been invented as a result.

This is also a place that falls in love with outsized expectations and dreams of what could be—sometimes to the detriment of early adopters. This could not be truer than in the area of reproductive medicine. It has been 36 years since the birth of the first in vitro fertilization (IVF) baby. We’ve since been led to believe that science has mastered Mother Nature. This is not true. I know. I am a former patient of three clinics in the Bay area, all of which were happy to sell me services as long as I could pay the bill. I had multiple fresh and frozen embryo transfers. Instead of taking home a baby, I came away with tremendous heartache. And my experience is not unique. Around the world, there are an estimated 1.5 million IVF procedures each year, and 1.2 million fail.

Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos works in the venture capital and tech sectors. She is also the author of the award-winning book, Silent Sorority. Her work has been featured in The New York Times and Huffington Post.

The very latest whizzy reproductive ‘product’ being marketed and wrapped into lucrative employee benefit packages at companies like Apple and Facebook is egg freezing. Lost in all the cheerleading about empowerment and liberating women from their biological clocks is a more buzz-killing, underreported set of facts, which women and families would benefit tremendously in understanding. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) do not endorse the use of egg freezing to defer childbearing. The ASRM’s decision to lift the ‘experimental’ label from this still young procedure in 2012 only applied to medically indicated needs, such as women with cancer.

Moreover, there is no long-term data tracking the health risks of women who inject hormones and undergo egg retrieval, and no one knows how much of the chemicals used in the freezing process are absorbed by eggs, and whether they are toxic to cell development. Furthermore, even with the new flash freezing process, the most comprehensive data available reveals a 77 percent failure rate of frozen eggs resulting in a live birth in women aged 30, and a 91 percent failure rate in women aged 40.

The Numbers and Risk Profile

Egg freezing is invasive and it comes with serious short- and long-term physical and mental health risks.

To secure any eggs you must first submit to a demanding series of rigorously scheduled blood tests, hormone injections, and ultrasounds conducted over several weeks prior to the actual egg retrievals. During a typical natural cycle, your body will release one egg a month. During the egg freezing process you will inject yourself with a cocktail of powerful hormones—many prescribed off-label – that hyper stimulate your ovaries to produce eggs.

Depending on your age and reproductive health you may only generate a few eggs or you might produce two dozen. (As many as one-third of women who undergo ovarian stimulation suffer from a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which in extreme cases, can be life threatening.)

After nine to 13 days of self-injection, usually twice daily, you will submit to the risks of sedation while a doctor collects the eggs by punching a series of holes into your ovaries and applying suction. If you have exceptional egg quality and produce six eggs in one cycle, there will probably be one reasonable attempt at pregnancy. To increase the odds of sufficient viable eggs to fertilize, egg freezing businesses advise at least two cycles. Assuming unlimited financial resources or a generous benefit package you may endure multiple cycles. With each round of powerful hormones and punctured ovaries the risk of complications and long term health consequences increase. Once flash frozen, your eggs are stored indefinitely for an annual fee ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Fast forward many months or even years into the future. You now attempt to get pregnant with your frozen eggs. Hopefully you have sufficient savings, or are still employed by Facebook or Apple, because you must now undergo at least one, but probably multiple rounds of invasive and life-altering in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

You must again inject yourself with hormones, this time to prepare your uterus to welcome a potential embryo. You must open your entire emotional, social and professional schedule to daily blood tests, ultra sounds, vaginal probes and other assorted procedures that experienced women have referred to as “humiliating.” I can attest to this.

If your uterus responds to the hormones, the frozen eggs must then be successfully thawed––-no easy task given low thaw survival rates. An egg’s shell hardens when frozen in liquid nitrogen so to attempt in vitro fertilization sperm must be injected directly into the egg with a needle to fertilize the egg through a technique known as ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection).

Again, if all goes well and at least one viable embryo is created in the laboratory, it is then transferred into your uterus. As with naturally occurring conception, the final outcome is in Mother Nature’s hands––-and she is clearly not incentive driven. The vast majority of procedures fail.

The Emotional Toll and Lack of Oversight

The emotional toll associated with family-building failure can be crushing. The scientific fascination with the latest protocol and the marketing of fertility procedures as a lifestyle enhancer the past few decades has unwittingly led to a disregard for the emotional responses of these medical procedures, which creates a different kind of health concern – one involving mental health. Studies have shown that people coping with fertility failures are as distressed as cancer patients. Many others suffer depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

These negatives are conveniently overlooked by those selling services. You will not find failure rates or the harmful impacts highlighted in brochures or on clinic websites. In the U.S. this unregulated industry’s nickname is the Wild, Wild West of American medicine.

This lack of oversight has emboldened the more entrepreneurial doctors and service providers and led to mixed messages. While the ASRM’s practice committee advised that “there was still not enough known about the egg freezing procedure’s safety, efficacy, cost-effectiveness, and emotional risks” and cautioned against the widespread use because it may “give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing,” the ASRM annual meeting, held this week in Honolulu, included this session: Fertility Preservation Patients: How to Re-engineer your Practice to Accommodate Them. It was conducted not by an M.D., but by someone with an MBA.

When it comes to reproductive medicine it is buyer beware.

This meeting boasted the slogan: “Surfing the Waves of Change in Reproductive Medicine,” with a program cover showing a silhouette of a lone woman surfing big waves. The subliminal message suggesting that reproductive medicine is fun and carefree could not be further from the truth, as my own experience exemplifies. After my IFV trials failed, none of the clinics bothered to follow up to find out how I was doing, not even after the loss of alpha pregnancies. They were too busy selling to the next consumer — complete with collateral boasting pictures of women cradling babies. The unrelenting focus on commercial returns means there are no consumer protections in place for the customers buying these expensive services. When it comes to reproductive medicine it is buyer beware.

There is big money to be made in selling dreams of parenthood. A report by Allied Analytics LLP estimates that the net worth of the IVF market at the end of 2012 was US $9.3 billion, a figure that is estimated to increase to $21.6 billion by 2020.

Commercial clinics have become cash cows. In an article on reproductive technology, a business journalist and former egg donor reported that universities with medical school programs often host reproductive endocrinology departments that make enough money from IVF treatments to fund entire schools within the university. Generally, fertility doctors are among the highest-paid employees at private universities.

Yet if pay for performance (as in live births) were the metric by which they were paid there would be much smaller pools of capital available.

The Bottom Line

Today service providers and clinics cavalierly market egg freezing to fertile women without fully understanding or communicating the risks. Though I am neither for nor against egg freezing as an idea, I believe strongly that women must be fully informed about reproductive medicine before setting their hopes on it. Facebook and Apple and all companies would do well by their employees to hold fertility vendors to the highest possible standards and not inadvertently put worker’s physical and mental health in jeopardy. Unlike smartphones or apps that can be recalled or re-engineered should they fail, egg freezing and IVF are high-risk processes with life changing consequences. And this science, particularly where egg freezing is concerned, is still in its infancy.

Ebola Shows It Is Process–Not Technology–That Will Protect Us


Technology has driven our economy and made our country powerful, but tech alone is proving to be insufficient to stop the spread of Ebola. The case of Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had contact with an ebola patient four days before travel to the U.S., shows just how much the mundane world of process matters.

Duncan was supposed to be screened before leaving his country, and that screening should include questions about contact with ebola patients. Duncan helped carry a highly contagious woman to the hospital just four days before leaving. Either it wasn’t asked or was and it didn’t make a difference.

Once in Dallas, Duncan arrived at a hospital with symptoms of ebola but somehow doctors were unaware that he had recently traveled from one of the West Africa countries where ebola is spreading rapidly. He was sent home, highly infectious. In both cases, humans and procedures were critical to our defense against the disease, not technology, and the system failed. Do we trust too much in technology and its ability to protect us? Probably.

When two nurses at the facility became sick, the same lesson applied. The same again in Spain where poor process or process failures are the likely reason for the spread of the virus. While we race to find a technology solution in a vaccine, we underserve the proven way to stop the spread of the disease.

From a recent Reuters blog:

America is a society enamored with technology. This helps explain the public’s continuing fascination with new drugs and vaccines as the best way to fight Ebola. In medicine, this love of technology has partly encouraged the overuse of laboratory and radiology testing at the expense of doctors taking the time to talk to their patients. Some physicians even seem to have forgotten how to perform a thorough physical exam.

Since the ebola crisis started, we’ve been reassured that what’s happening in Africa couldn’t happen here. Events this past month show that without better process, it can. Does the lesson of ebola apply more broadly? Absolutely.

The ebola outbreak highlights a bigger problem with over reliance on tech to solve problems. While new technology is bright and shiny, success is tightly connected to the sometimes mundane world of process. The blocking and tackling that is necessary to protect us from ebola is just as necessary in every other part of life, including our work.

Each incremental and not-so-sexy task we need to perform is an important step towards the goal. What seems like boring routine forms the building blocks of higher-level accomplishments. Those who won’t or can’t focus on the details are unlikely to get beyond a good idea. The world is full of good ideas and short on those able to execute.

Ebola is a tragic reminder of the power of the process. Hopefully, technology will come to the rescue with a vaccine, but in the meantime, success in controlling ebola will come from the everyday, sometimes-numbing tasks that are just as critical anywhere else in our lives.

Jeanne Roué-Taylor is the cofounder of Successful Workplace.

Smart Homes of the Future Will Know Us by Our Heartbeats

Bionym's Nymi.

The Nymi. Bionym via YouTube

Kevin Foreman believes that homes will soon become intelligent enough to distinguish between family members and guests within physical spaces and adapt to individual needs based on biometrics like fingerprints, body temperatures and even the rhythm of our own heartbeats.

In the very near future as you walk through your home, a small device worn around the wrist will authenticate your identity by pairing itself to your specific heartbeat, allowing your home to automatically adjust the lighting, room temperature and play custom music based on personalized preferences and pre-configured profiles.

While this may sound like some futuristic mash-up of daily life straight out of Oblivion, Iron Man or even The Jetsons, it’s really not so far off and indeed, several companies are already pouring millions of dollars into developing technologies that seamlessly integrate our digital and physical worlds within our cars and homes.

Sitting alongside Foreman, director of product vision at the digital experience firm Vectorform headquartered in the nation’s automotive capital of Detroit, is an intellectual dialogue in both abstraction and technical innovation. His precise and metered speech comes off warm, yet controlled, and his eyes light up as he demonstrates his new Moto 360 smartwatch that according to him, “takes the conventions of a watch and embraces them with fashion and the perception of technology.”

The industry’s advancements in wearable technologies like the Moto watch, powered by Android, and the yet-to-be-released Apple Watch, are breaking down the screens that contain our daily lives, and will allow us to live in the real world without distraction while still being connected. He points to Google Glass as a step in the right direction.

“The more you can remove the UI, the better the user experience. We want to reinvent the smart home experience and make it almost invisible,” Foreman said. “Wearables allow us to remove the distractions of traditional mobile devices, and give us new input streams that enable improved contextual information gathering and sharing. As our mobile devices become larger and more unwieldy, wearables are becoming smaller and more invisible. Expect new wearables to look more like fashion accessories, rather than pieces of technology.”

Smart Homes Are In Need of a Killer App

Indeed, one of the barriers preventing the smart home industry from taking off is that the average consumer hasn’t yet adopted these connected lifestyle experiences because the value to them is not yet clearly defined.

“To date, the smart home lacks a killer app to drive these experiences but once this is made available, consumer adoption will skyrocket,” he said in our interview. “Providing real-time feedback is the best way to get consumers interested in adopting smart home technologies.”

In order to address these problems, Foreman’s team identified the one thing that homeowners want to manage more efficiently — real-time energy consumption — and conducted research on market entry points to determine the best way to introduce their idea to the masses. What the team at Vectorform found was that consumers don’t like to place trust in third-party vendors in their homes but would rather receive new energy-saving technologies from their established utility companies.

Then his team went to work developing a prototype device and app called PowerScan that allows people to measure the energy consumption of individual household appliances by just holding the app up to a power cord. Much like those bulky, yellow multi-meters used in high school physics classes (but way more complex), the app measures electromagnetic fields generated by appliances to calculate wattage usage and power consumption metrics.

Vectorform approached DTE Energy, a local power company based in Detroit, who worked in partnership over the past two years to bring DTE Insight, a complete home energy management solution, to their customers. Within three months, the platform has received over 25,000 users and is expected to achieve between a 9-12 percent reduction in energy savings.

How Wearables Will Unify Smart Home Experiences

“The rise of the smart home comes in integrating wearable devices like Glass and the ability to chain multiple verbal or touch-based commands together and having devices communicate with beacon-based technologies that use occupancy rather than motion.” As Foreman mentioned in a playful tone, motion powered lights in a bathroom sometimes turn off before you are finished in there and we’ve all had an experience sitting in the darkness trying to wave vigorously to trigger the sensor back on, but micro-location beacons run on BLE are based on proximity rather than motion.

Now, with the right devices, proximity as well as personal preferences can be automated through wearable technologies like Nymi, a device worn on the wrist that authenticates an individual’s identity through his distinct heartbeat variability.

Foreman’s colleague Taylor Hanson is the director of accounts at Vectorform’s Seattle office and helped the company discover Nymi by participating in a developer contest aimed to find the best use cases for the product and believes it’s the missing piece for the connected home.

“We submitted our idea around Nymi being an integral piece into the smart home, allowing for increased security and seamless authentication, while also providing location information throughout the home,” said Foreman. “We were chosen as a winner of that contest and have been working with Nymi to integrate these ideas.”

Hanson added, “The next step is allowing wearables to tap into a person’s body temperature and having rooms automatically adjust the thermostat to an optimal setting configured for the user. We also see the potential of wearables as the becoming the centralized access to all your digital content. Nymi knows who you are and can authenticate commands on your behalf.”

Both Hanson and Foreman believe the future of smart home adoption comes in establishing clear standards to unify all smart home technologies and is working to develop the backbone that allows disparate products to communicate seamlessly with one another. While companies like Google, Samsung and Microsoft and industry organizations like MoCA have made strides along these lines, overcoming this hurdle will create a green field of opportunities for the smart home industry.

Richard L. Tso is a journalist covering the intersection of advertising, social media, technology and music.

Wearables and Quantified Self Demand Security-First Design

Wearable Technology (Gadget Lab)

Ariel Zambelich/Wired

As a wearable-tech enthusiast attending Black Hat Europe Amsterdam, I felt like I didn’t belong there and like I have lost my way. Black Hat, like Defcon, is one of the biggest information security events in the world that bring together everyone from the hacking community and information security enterprises. So Wearable Tech isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of security, but the conference had me thinking, shouldn’t it be?

I must confess that it was refreshing to be able to converse in wearable tech language and be understood. The people I met at Black Hat shared my enthusiasm for Wearable Tech and it was while I was talking with them that I found out that most of the enterprises that presented themselves at Black Hat had not really touched the wearable space just yet. It was argued that, “There isn’t really a reason for it”, others stated, “Somehow the need hasn’t yet been created.”

With the physical and digital world inevitably merging, I feel that security will become more and more relevant. The question should be, do wearable devices need a security model? This is the kind of question that you would think would have the simple answer of “yes” but then why do I find myself constantly trading convenience for security?

This was something that I was able to discuss with Symantec Threat Researcher Candid Wueest. He was the only speaker at Black Hat who integrated wearable technology into his speech. Wueest has done extensive research on Wearables in the context of Security and wrote a white paper or rather a “Security Response” with Mario Ballano Barcena and Hon Lau, called “How Safe Is Your Quantified Self?”

Sitting down with Wueest after his talk, I asked him about the relatively low level of sensitivity of the data collected from Wearable Tech tracking devices. Wueest stated: “It’s not so much the level of danger that people put themselves in wearing these devices. It’s more the fact that maybe they should be offered the choice of what to share and what not.”

“How Safe Is Your Quantified Self” basically revealed that at this point developers do not give security and privacy the focus that some could argue, it deserves.

Wueest continues: “From the devices we did the research on only 52% had a privacy policy. 20% used simple “clear” (visible) text while users are asked for login credentials and in some cases these devices would send data to up to 14 IP addresses.” Not long ago Fitbit’s data measuring “sexual activity” was visible to all by default. Something easily found if someone would search for a particular Fitbit account on Google search.

After explaining to the Black Hat public that he actually had his self manufactured Raspberry Pi device “sniff” (track) up to at least 6 jawbone and Fitbit devices from visitors at his speaking session. He showed the public how easy it was to find out people’s whereabouts, their listed hardware addresses and the time they actually left or entered the room. The security breach that Wueest demonstrated was quite clear.

Wueest brought to the forefront the reality that wearable device developers do not even think about how to approach the security issue when the developing process starts. The overall consensus is to get the device ready to be produced and then “sprinkle some security on top” in the end.

Black Hat left me flabbergasted at the amount of opportunities that are out there for tech companies who are looking to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The first company that would actually treat security as a product-feature instead of a handover could seriously have an edge on the competition. In the white paper for “How Safe Is Your Quantified Self?” the Symantec team advises companies to build security in from the start, not as an afterthought and that they should make security testing a part of the developing process.

Wueest sums it best: “Up till now we can only advise the vendors. We want to help wherever we can by giving out this information. Adding SSL content to the software only takes some simple coding but if the developer isn’t even aware of this they can always knock on our door to see if we can be of any significance.”

Mano ten Napel is founder of the wearable startup Novealthy.

Audi’s Self-Driving Car Hits 150 MPH on an F1 Track

In the realm of self-driving cars, Google tends to get all the attention. Its vehicles have covered more than 700,000 miles on their own, and an adorable, steering wheel-free prototype joined the family in May. But Audi is no less serious about autonomous technology, and to prove it, it sent an RS7 flying around Germany’s Hockenheimring at race pace. Without a driver inside.

On Sunday, a group of Audi engineers closely watched as the largely stock RS7, nicknamed “Bobby,” lapped the Formula One track. The 560-horsepower car took the six straightaways at full throttle. It precisely hit each of the 17 turns, topping out at 149 mph. It completed the lap in roughly 2 minutes, 10 seconds, about 30 seconds slower than the times posted by the professionally-trained humans in the DTM races held after the Audi demonstration.

“We wanted to come close to matching the speed, precision, and vehicle control of a professional racer,” says project manager Peter Bergmiller. “We took the sportiest piloted driving car in the world to the race track and did just that.”

Audi self-piloted RS7 hockenheim lap

Taking a ride in Google’s self-driving car comes with a quiet wow factor: At low speeds on suburban roads, sitting in the Lexus SUV is super boring—that’s how good the system is. When Audi wants to show off its technology, which it’s been working on for over a decade, it’s not quite as subtle. In 2009, its self-driving TTS hit 130 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats and carved the brand’s four-ring logo into the ground. The next year, that same car ran the 156-turn Pikes Peak mountain race circuit in 27 minutes (the course record is 8 minutes, 13.9 seconds, set by Sebastien Loeb in 2013). The TTS took on California’s Thunderhill Race Track in 2012.

At each, the car performed magnificently, making us humans feel excited, but also increasingly irrelevant. Those tests show two things: 1) autonomous cars can be a freaking blast, and 2) Audi’s approach to the technology is very different from Google’s.

Those tests are a complete blast for people who love watching cars race, but they don’t make much sense at first glance. At this point, the real challenge of getting self-driving cars on the market is proving they can safely handle a huge range of situations, the most difficult of which involve unexpected obstacles like cyclists, pedestrians, and construction. So why test on a racetrack lacking those variables?

It’s to see “how do you control a car at the limit,” says Thomas Mueller, Audi’s head of development of braking, steering, and driver assistance systems. While the RS7’s computer had a detailed digital map of the track and was following an optimized path through it, Audi did not preprogram things like torque or steering. It was up to the car to decide how to keep up speed and stay on track. It had to adjust to things like changing traction and grip, and the chance to see how it fared is what makes this testing useful.

That shows us how Audi’s approach to autonomy—in its parlance, “piloted driving”—is fundamentally different from Google’s. The tech giant calls its approach a “moonshot”—it plans to introduce a fully self-driving car as its commercial debut. To get there, it tests its cars on public roads all day, getting better and better in those conditions. Audi, like other automakers, is taking a gradual, evolutionary approach, installing autonomous technologies one by one as they are proved reliable. It’s the safer approach, and lets it steadily add features to add to its latest models.

Many cars today, including Audi’s, can stay in their lane, adjust their speed on the highway, and hit the brakes in emergency situations, all on their own. But while Mercedes and Nissan talk about putting a fully self-driving car on the market within a few years, Audi is more circumspect. Yes, it has a self-driving car prototype. No, it doesn’t think it will be ready for customers in the near future. But it’s making progress.

The hardware and software in the RS7 aren’t much different from Audi’s competitors are using. The car has a laser system to read its surroundings, along with radar, cameras, and an ultrasonic system. Mueller, though, emphasizes what Audi calls zFAS (why it felt the need to abbreviate zentrale Fahrerassistenzsteuergerät isn’t clear to us), a computer system that brings data from those disparate systems into one place. It’s “a central brain like the one we have in our head,” Mueller says. Two years ago, it took up the whole trunk of Audi’s demonstration vehicle. By January 2014, when it was shown at CES, it was half as big as a shoebox, and had as much computing power as the entire A4 sedan has today.

Audi's TTS races up Pikes Peak in 2010, a joint project with Stanford University.

Audi’s TTS races up Pikes Peak in 2010, a joint project with Stanford University. Audi

One thing Audi wants to add to its car next, Mueller says, is the ability to automatically and suddenly change lanes to avoid collisions on the highway. To do that, it has to know how the car handles at extremes. The Hockenheim lap, which doubled nicely as a PR stunt, gave Audi the chance to collect that data.

Audi also does more mundane—and possibly more important—testing in California, where it was the first company to be licensed to use autonomous technology on public roads. But watching an autonomous car patiently wait to turn left at an intersection is way less fun than seeing one barrel around a Formula One track, and the public relations significance of that isn’t lost on the Germans. Pushing a car, especially one as fast and powerful as the RS7, to its limit without a human at the wheel, is an exhilarating, attention-grabbing way to show everyone what it’s up to.