The new Audi A8 revealed by the automaker today features a new level of self-driving for production vehicles – Level 3 autonomy, which actually allows drivers to stop monitoring the vehicle under certain conditions – and where allowed by law to do so. Level 3 is one that some autonomous experts have argued shouldn’t even exist, since it requires a driver to still be ready to resume control, but Audi’s production implementation of the tech is on its way regardless.
The A8’s new automated driving feature is called “traffic jam pilot,” and kicks in when the car finds itself in slow-moving traffic on divided highways at speeds of 37.3 mph and under only. That’s very different from Level 2 highway assistance features like Tesla’s Autopilot, and it’s clearly intended to mitigate any risks associated with use of the system. But it’s also a feature that sounds very attractive from a user perspective, since it handles driving in those conditions where it’s not at all fun to have manual control – amid stop-and-go freeway traffic.
Traffic jam pilot handles all aspects of driving in these conditions, including starting from a stop, accelerating, steering and braking. Drivers can take their hands off the wheel entirely, and (where legal) can even text, watch the built-in TV or read. The system is designed to alert the driver in plenty of time to get them to resume manual control where necessary.
That’s a tough needle to thread, which is why some experts and automakers, including Ford, have said they’re skipping Level 3 entirely and heading straight to Level 4, where the vehicle assumes full control of all driving operations. Audi clearly has a lot of confidence in its solution, which is powered by a central driver assistance controller that’s computing a sensor fusion image of the vehicle’s surroundings based on data from radar, front camera, ultrasonics and laser scanning.
Rollout of traffic jam pilot will vary based on testing and approvals as required market-to-market, so this could be variably available when the A8 ships. Still, it’ll a big step forward in autonomy when it does make it to consumers.
The A8 also includes AI-based remote parking for both surface spaces and garages, which don’t even require the driver to be seated in the car to both hail and send the vehicle to its spot. All of that is controlled via a mobile app for the driver’s smartphone. Audi could find itself at the leading edge of autonomy with the A8, but being this close to the frontier mean it’ll be closely monitored for risk, too.