We’ve already heard that the brand-new Audi A8 will be the first production car capable of Level 3 Autonomy. We know this because Audi hasn’t stopped talking about it for the past year. Admittedly, Audi has the right to boast, as it’s developed the most impressive semi-autonomous driving system of any production car. To prove it, the Bavarian brand recently took some journalists for a ride along in the new A8, letting the car drive itself.
Car and Driver recently had a go as part of this test. I say test, they really just sat there in the passenger seat. Reason being is that Germany, along with the US and the UK, doesn’t allow for Level 3 autonomous cars to drive on the street without a certified technician behind the wheel. That’s because autonomous tech has been evolving far faster than government regulations have been. So Car and Driver was relegated to the passenger seat while a test engineer sat in the driver seat, hoping for traffic.
Audi’s Level 3 tech, dubbed Audi Traffic Jam Pilot, requires a specific set of circumstances: Speed must be 60 km/h (37 mph) or under, there must be clear lane markings and there must be on a divided highway with slow-moving vehicles on either side of the lines. So, basically, stuck in traffic. Once the car recognizes that those circumstances are present, the dash display will show a car with adjacent white lines, which signifies the car is ready to drive autonomously.
“A Level 3 system takes the responsibility of the driving task, so we also had to change the way you use it,” Peter Bergmiller, technical project lead for the system, told Car and Driver. “It’s no longer like with the classic driver-assist systems where you just activate the system and whenever it can do something, it does.” During Level 3 driving, Audi is so confident in the car’s capabilities to completely drive itself, it actually allows you to watch TV. In fact, Bergmiller brought up a German TV station while they were driving, err, while the car was driving.
While you are allowed to watch TV, you can’t nap. One of the requirements for the system is that the diver must remain awake and alert. There’s an infrared sensor and a camera that monitor eye movement and head motions, to make sure the driver is awake. The Audi A8 will alert you if it catches you napping, turn off the Traffic Jam Pilot and not allow you to reengage it until the car has been turned off and restarted.
It’s a brave new world, having cars drive themselves. But it’s fascinating and will allow drivers to delegate the mundane aspects of driving, such as traffic, to the car and take over when they actually want to drive. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too. The new Audi A8 will be a pioneer in this indulgence and hopefully will continue to improve the technology. Check out the piece by Car and Driver.