At the first Audi Summit in Barcelona, carmaker Audi this week announced its latest luxury A8 sedan, which it says is the world’s first production car developed specially for highly automated driving. Audi will roll out piloted driving functions in production versions of the A8 from next year.
The car will use Audi’s AI traffic jam pilot to take over driving responsibilities in slow-moving traffic (up to 60 km/h or 37.3 mph) on roads where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways.
Drivers will be able to activate the automated driving system – designed to handle starting, acceleration, steering and braking – by pressing a button on the car’s centre console.
Notably, Audi promises that the driver can take their hands off the steering wheel ‘permanently’ while the traffic jam pilot is in use, allowing them to focus on a completely separate activity such as watching the car’s on-board TV.
This hands-off approach contrasts with that of other carmakers. Tesla’s Autopilot technology, for example, requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, ready to resume control should the car require it.
Another hands-free driving technology, Cadillac’s Super Cruise, is designed to monitor driver distraction and can use a series of escalating alerts to keep the driver engaged.
As well as its new traffic jam pilot technology, Audi’s latest model will offer owners remote parking pilot and remote garage pilot technologies.
These will allow the driver to autonomously steer the car into and out of a parking space or garage, even if they are not in the car.
Where will Audi’s highly automated driving be allowed?
The regulations surrounding automated driving mean that drivers’ ability to use the Audi AI traffic jam pilot may vary on a market-by-market basis, something the carmaker openly acknowledged as it announced the new sedan.
“The introduction of the Audi AI traffic jam pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual market, along with the country-specific definition of the application and testing of the system,” said Audi.
“The brand’s high quality standards are equally applicable in the realm of highly automated driving. In addition, a range of approval procedures and their corresponding timescales will need to be observed worldwide.
“Audi will therefore be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models.”
How will passengers spend their time in self-driving cars?
The car company also announced a collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, in which Audi will research the way people spend time in a self-driving car.
“When cars no longer have a steering wheel, premium mobility can be newly defined,” said Melanie Goldmann, head of Culture and Trends Communication at Audi.
“In future, people traveling from A to B will be able to surf the Internet at leisure, play with their children – or do concentrated work.
“Together with the experts from the Fraunhofer Institute, we want to find out what is important for making optimal use of time in a self-driving car.”
As part of this work, Audi has built a driving simulator to reproduce the experience of automated driving. The simulator has a changeable interior and – ensuring authenticity – no steering wheel.
Audi’s testing is focused particularly on young people born after 1980 – so-called ‘Millennials’ – who are seen as particularly receptive to self-driving cars.
The tests are part of Audi’s ‘25th Hour’ project, in which it is investigating how the 50 minutes per day that drivers spend at the wheel could be better used in a self-driving car.
“In a self-driving car, premium will be seen as how I can use my time best and most efficiently,” said Audi chairman Rupert Stadler in a keynote speech addressing the summit.
“With our products, we will ensure that this is possible, irrespective of whether I want to relax or be productive, or whether I want to spend valuable time with my family or friends.”