The technological revolution has started with Audi’s autonomous driving technology. The new Audi A8 made its auto show premiere in Frankfurt last week (no word yet if it’s coming to the North American Auto Show circuit). This is the first production vehicle to be allowed conditional automated driving on public roads. For the first-time ever, drivers will be able to allow the vehicle to take over driving responsibilities completely. With the double world premiere of two concept cars, Audi is also showing how the brand intends to further develop autonomous driving in the future.
Other automakers label their self-driving production cars as “semi-autonomous” vehicles, which are built to assist tired or distracted drivers. The new Audi A8 has been dubbed a “conditionally automated” vehicle.
The new A8 is the world’s first production automobile to have been developed specially for conditional automated driving at level 3 according to the applicable international standards. The Audi AI traffic jam pilot takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 km/h (37.3 mph) on highways and multi-lane roads with a physical barrier separating the two directions of traffic. The driver activates the system with the AI button on the center console.
A five-level scale has been established in international automotive engineering as the definition for automated driving. This scale was developed by the American standardization organization SAE.
- Level 1 – Driver Assistance:The system is able to take over either continual longitudinal or the lateral control of the vehicle. It supports the driver, who remains responsible, however, and must be ready to assume control immediately, if necessary. An example of a level 1 system of this type at Audi is the adaptive cruise control (ACC) system.
- Level 2 – Partial Automation:In certain situations, the driver can delegate continuous, combined longitudinal and lateral control of the vehicle to the system, but must monitor the system at all times and assume control as needed. The driver therefore always maintains responsibility. An example is the traffic jam assist from Audi: it assumes the tasks of braking and accelerating the car in slow-moving traffic up to 65 km/h (40.4 mph), and also takes charge of steering on better roads.
- Level 3 – Conditional Automation:The driver no longer has to continuously monitor and can carry out other activities supported by on-board equipment. The system autonomously recognizes the limit – that is, the point at which the ambient conditions no longer match the range of functions of the system. In these cases, the vehicle prompts the driver to take over the task of driving the vehicle, with several seconds advance warning. The traffic jam pilot in the new Audi A8 will satisfy these criteria.
- Level 4 – High Automation:Systems with level 4 function do not require any assistance on the part of the driver, but their function is limited to a specific area – such as on highways or in a parking garage. In these places, the driver can completely transfer the task of driving to the system. The driver only needs to resume the task when the car leaves the area defined for highly automated driving. If the driver does not react, the system assumes a safe position, e.g. pulls onto the shoulder and stops there. Robot taxis in city centers are another example of such a system. They take over the complete task of driving within a restricted speed range and on a limited route.
- Level 5 – Full Automation:The automobile assumes complete longitudinal and lateral control. Level 5 systems do not need help from the driver in any situation. Control elements like the steering wheel or pedals are not necessary here.
In other words, your commute just got better. You can watch a movie, read the newspaper or catch up on paperwork while the car does all the driving for you. The Audi A8 will let you relax all the way home (in the right conditions).
Vehicles with driving assistance that help you stay in your lane, brake for obstacles, and hold your speed are able to do so through the use of sonar, laser and camera sensors. Audi technology employs all these tactics, and adds lidar, which is an enhanced form of radar that creates digital images of everything around it for its computer to interpret. There are so many sensors that they overlap at least twice, in case something breaks.
There’s also an infrared camera sensor in the car that monitors the driver inside the vehicle and prevent you from falling asleep at the wheel. If the camera detects your eyes closed for an extended period, or obscured by a newspaper or large device, it will ask you to take back the wheel.
Of course, the Canadian Laws have not caught up to the technology, quite yet. The Audi A8 is not legal for production if it’s capable of more than 10 km/h, which is all that’s needed for experiments and trials. This is an international law of vehicle designation and must be amended by the United Nations before such cars are permitted for sale to the public. Audi is hoping the law will be amended in the next year, as their technology keeps getting better.