Audi continues innovating and pushing toward its target of developing self-driving cars. While some carmakers tinker with ever-more sophisticated independent safety and driver-assist technologies, which they hope someday will constitute the key elements of an autonomous platform, Audi is mapping a course to autonomous vehicles in which it integrates such self-driving technologies.
At the 2017 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas in early January, Audi announced it would bring SAE Level 3 driving to market this year and fully automated driving to the roads in 2020. Making this possible is artificial intelligence (AI) technology from long-time Audi partner NVIDIA.
SAE Level 3
The government, as well as the automated-vehicle technology industry, has adopted the six levels of automation as laid out by the Society of Automotive Engineers or SAE. Ranging from zero (which is no automation) to 5 (which is full automation), these levels define the various stages of self-driving cars.
Currently, the more sophisticated autonomous systems available in cars are Level 2 or partial automation. Specifically, Level 2 vehicles have at least one steering technology and one acceleration/deceleration technology that uses information gathered by sensors, cameras and radar to control those functions under limited conditions, with the expectation the driver will perform all remaining functions. Think of adaptive cruise control overseeing acceleration and braking while lane-keep assist maintains the vehicle’s course within its lane. That’s Level 2.
Audi, however, promises to take things to the next level or Level 3 later this year. This is conditional automation, in which the system monitors its surroundings and controls all driving functions with the expectation that the human will retake control when the vehicle requests the driver’s intervention.
If you’re a gamer, even if you’ve never heard of NVIDIA, you’ve probably marveled at the effects of its graphics processing unit that creates the 3-D playing field of such games as Battlefield 3.
Audi and NVIDIA have partnered over the years on projects like Audi’s MMI navigation and the Audi Virtual Cockpit. What NVIDIA brings to Audi’s automated technology program is deep learning and AI. Cars with NVIDIA’s AI platform will constantly and relentlessly learn from the driver and the road with every mile driven. Each new situation and the driver’s reaction to it will add to the vehicle’s database. The car will teach itself how to react to changing weather conditions and unexpected road hazards, such as construction areas or roads lacking lane markings.
When Audi introduces the next-generation A8 later this year, it will feature Traffic Jam Pilot (TJP). Fulfilling all the standards of SAE Level 3 automation, TJP uses a central driver-assistance controller with NVIDIA hardware and software to totally oversee steering, throttle and braking functions at speeds up to 35 miles per hour when engaged. Audi believes the technology will reduce the frustration and stress of stop-and-go freeway traffic during rush hour and other slow-traffic incidents.
What it means to you: Self-driving cars are coming. Maybe not tomorrow or next year, but they are coming. As one of the leaders in automated systems, Audi is a carmaker to watch when trying to keep track of how automated technology is progressing.