Today's Top News: Audi Slaps Silicon Valley with the First Level 3 Debut

Audi Slaps Silicon Valley with the First Level 3 Debut

Forget Waymo, Uber, Tesla, and other other heavily mediatized driverless contenders — German premium carmaker Audi AG has become the first OEM to introduce a Level 3 car sold in retail channels.

With the debut of Audi's next-generation A8 flagship at a media event held today in Barcelona, Audi will offer a car that will let you read, work on your PC, or watch Netflix as the vehicle drives its along the highway, even in busy traffic.

While Audi has previously disclosed it will offer Level 3 self-driving in the new A8, it reveals more details today about how the technology will work and what it will offer drivers.

Audi calls its self-drive system the "traffic jam pilot," which takes over the driving (once the Audi AI self-drive is activated) in slow-moving traffic at speeds up to 37.3 mph on freeways and highways with a barrier to separate incoming traffic. What is key is that once activated, the driver no longer has to monitor the car's self-accelerating, -steering and -braking. Besides reading, working, or using your smart phone's messaging apps, Audi said you can watch TV on the infotainment system embedded in the front console as the car self-pilots itself along the highway.

Drivers can also park the A8 with a myAudi smart phone app as they remain outside of the car as it self-pilots itself into a garage or parking space. The app can also be used to summon the A8 from its parking place, serving as a robotically controlled valet.

The A8's driverless capabilities rely on the zFAS system, which Bosch helped to design and integrate into the car with Audi engineers, and Nvidia's central neural network computer and graphics processor unit (GPU). The system processes the data sent from the sensors to control driving, braking, and acceleration. It also relies on machine-taught AI to process the data and images of both static and non-static objects surrounding the car for classification in real time that it receives from the LiDAR, cameras, radar, and other sensors.

However, there is one catch: as we previously reported, you cannot activate the A8's full driverless capabilities until Level 3 becomes legal, which Audi says is expected to happen in Germany next year. In other words, the car's hardware and software are in place for Level 3 driving, but you will have to hack the car to use the full auto-pilot features before you are able to activate the capability by visiting an Audi dealership once Level 3 becomes legal in your jurisdiction.

The Race Ahead

While the Audi A8's Level 3 driving features have yet to be activated, the most-advanced driverless features on offer in retail channels are available in Tesla models that some Level 2 features. BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the premium sector and Nissan and Honda also offer Level 2 driving, but the features are more limited compared to what Tesla models offer.

BMW plans to offer Level 3 capabilities when it introduces the iNext, but it is not slated for launch until 2021.

Meanwhile, Volvo, which it says plans to offer cars in the near future that will never be the cause of a fatal accident, says it will begin selling Level 4 cars by 2021.

Compared to Level 3 cars, which require input from the driver when prompted to take control of the vehicle, Level 4 models auto-pilot the vehicle from point A to B without human intervention.

Silicon Valley Waits for Level 4

To be fair, Audi has debuted the industry's first Level 3 model as Waymo and most carmakers are skipping Level 3 completely and are developing Level 4 cars instead. They are bypassing Level 3 because of the safety concerns associated with relying on humans to monitor or to takeover control of the cars. In this way, Level 3 is considered less safe than Level 4's more-reliable artificial intelligence-controlled vehicles.

Carmakers are also just beginning to publicly announce whether they will launch Level 3 or Level 4 vehicles. France's Groupe PSA (formerly known as PSA Peugeot Citroën) — one of the world's top-10 carmakers — became the first mainstream carmaker to announce it will launch a Level 3 self-drive vehicle launch by 2020.

The Audi A8's Plug in Spiderman Underwhelms

The Audi A8 makes a cameo appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but while the scene will make you laugh, Audi's flagship's true driverless features are downplayed or even ignored. Perhaps the filmmakers' legal department had liability concerns if the film showed Peter Parker taking a nap or putting his Spiderman clothes on in the back seat as the A8 sped along the streets of Gotham City.

Elsewhere in the News

Waymo teaches its driverless fleet to recognize emergency vehicles. Dubai says it is investing in driverless-testing infrastructure, in hopes it will attract Waymo, Uber, and other tech firms to test their driverless vehicles there. French carmaker Renault is working with highway infrastructure provider Sanef to develop roadside-to-vehicle communications for driverless cars.

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Cover photo via Audi AG

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