With the race for electric vehicles just starting to get interesting, with several brands now having their own, the new automotive frontier is autonomy. Self-driving cars are now becoming the focal point of most auto manufactures, or a least a large focal point. However, the world of autonomous driving is a far more difficult one to achieve than a world of electric vehicles. So car companies are working hard, partnering up with other brands and creating their own divisions to figure it out. Audi being one of them.
Audi was the first manufacturer to actually bring a Level 3 autonomous production car to the road. Level 3 is, in a nutshell, defined as a car that can drive itself completely under a specific set of circumstances. For instance, the Level 3-capable Audi A8 can completely drive itself — accelerate, brake, steer — under a speed of around 37 mph and only on highways with clearly marked lanes. However, Audi wants to bring Level 4 autonomy to the market by 2021.
A Level 4 autonomous car is one defined as a car that can completely drive itself, from start to finish, within a specifically-designated area. Audi wants to do this with a sort of autonomous taxi that can take passengers to and from pre-designated places. “Our goal is to develop the full Level 4 stack,” Audi (Chief Technology Officer Alexandre Haag told The Verge. “The first application to be robo-taxi,” He said, continuing “and in the long term provide the whole group with a self-driving stack for ownership vehicles, trucks, buses, food deliveries… everything in the long term.”
To do so, Audi has created its own subsidiary to solely work on autonomous driving, AID (Autonomous Intelligent Driving). AID is based in Munich and already has 150 employees. It also partnered up with Luminar to use its new LIDAR system, which uses millions of laser points each second to create a sort of virtual map around the car.
Though Haag acknowledges that even with the help of LIDAR and other brands, such technology is quite far away still. Giving the car clear perception of its surroundings is most difficult part of creating Level 4 tech. “Getting to 90 percent is fairly easy,” Haag told The Verge. “Getting to 95 percent starts to get interesting. And then you still need to go way beyond that. Nine point nine nine nine nine… Adding each nine is ten times harder. When you’re at 95 percent, you’ve just scratched the surface.”
It seems like even 2021 is an ambitious goal for Level 4 tech, as most government regulations don’t even allow for Level 3 yet. And that’s an entirely different obstacle to hurdle. Still, it’s good to see Audi trying to be a world leader in the self-driving tech of the future.