In recent years, Audi has easily established itself as one of the leading automotive brands working toward an autonomous future. However, the upcoming release of the 2019 A8 may just tip the scale for Audi and push the automaker to the head of the pack.
Described by Audi as the first production vehicle to offer SAE Level 3 automated driving, the new A8 marks the premiere of the company’s “piloted driving” which according to Audi, will allow for “conditional automated driving.” The technology will debut in a newly available system for the A8 known as Traffic Jam Pilot, one of three features included in the AI driver assistance package that also enables autonomous parking.
Before understanding Audi’s piloted driving, it’s important to comprehend just what Level 3 autonomy means. As illustrated in the video above, its major difference from Level 2 is marked by the amount of attentiveness required by the driver.
While both levels may be capable of similar dynamic driving tasks, encompass the same driver assistance features, and even allow for hands-free driving, Level 2 requires full monitoring by the driver at all times. A perfect example is Cadillac’s recently released Super Cruise system that enables single-lane hands-free driving on a restricted highway, but requires the driver’s full attention and ability to step in and take over at a moment’s notice.
With piloted driving, Audi is venturing into Level 3 automation, which does not require the driver’s full attention in certain situations. It serves as the brains behind the upcoming Traffic Jam Pilot which gives users the freedom to drive hands-free up to 37 mph on a limited-access highway without being forced to keep their eyes on the road. The only requirement is that drivers remain capable of intervening if need be.
In order to function, piloted driving depends on a number of technologies working together seamlessly like a well-oiled machine. They include a vast combination of cameras, radar sensors, ultrasonic sensors, and a laser scanner all responsible for helping paint a picture of the world around the vehicle, providing data to be merged together by a Central Driver Assistance Controller (zFAS), Audi’s “mastermind” behind the operation. The zFAS then makes this information available to the different driver assistance systems used by Traffic Jam Pilot.
Inside the cabin, there is also a camera in charge of keeping an eye on the driver’s availability to commandeer the wheel. If it detects a lack of alertness, a series of audible prompts will sound eventually followed by the vehicle automatically slowing to a stop.
At the moment Audi’s piloted driving technology still faces some major obstacles in the form of traffic laws and regulations. Don’t expect to see any of the automaker’s self-driving vehicles on the highways too soon, as Audi still has its work cut out convincing lawmakers worldwide that the system is safe. Because of this we most likely won’t see Traffic Jam Pilot available in the U.S. for the A8 until 2019. Level 3 automated driving is currently only permitted in several states.
While this is all certainly an impressive undertaking, Audi is by no means satisfied. The German automaker already has a timeline of goals for continued innovations to piloted driving. Next on the list scheduled for 2020-2021 is the introduction of Highway Pilot, a system capable of full-speed autonomous lane changes and passing on the freeway. And if the recently debuted Aicon concept is any indicator of what the future for Audi may hold, this is a vision for driving definitely worth getting on board with.