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Audi takes its self-driving car where others dare not go

Audi takes its self-driving car where others dare not go
From Engadget - July 11, 2017

At its first tech summit, Audi introduced the new A8 with Level 3 autonomy. It's the first production vehicle that will let the driver actually stop paying attention while the car drives itself. It's also big deal for the automaker and drivers that really need to update their Facebook status while commuting. Here, the company is making a bet that other companies have decided to pass on.

Most automakers see Level 4 as the next logical step for their vehicles. At that stage, the car is is almost totally in control all of the time without any human interaction and will only stop itself if there's a system failure or the conditions dictate that the human behind the wheel needs to take control.

A Level 3 vehicle can also drive itself without the driver paying attention. But not all the time and usually only in certain circumstances. Still, that's a huge leap from what's currently on the road and requires constant supervision by the driver. But before you start planning on napping while driving to work, this level of autonomy still requires the driver to take over if the system gets confused or fails.

It's that last bit that's had automakers like Volvo and Ford publicly state that they will go directly to Level 4. The argument against a Level 3 vehicle being sold to the general public is about safety. If a driver becomes too dependent upon the car's autonomy, they are less likely to intervene when the system fails. While Elon Musk has called out these automakers for withholding what he perceives are additional safety features that would ship with a Level 3 car, it's likely that Tesla will jump to Level 4. Musk has even noted that Level 5 autonomy will be available in approximately two years.

Audi's system seems to address some issues around Level 3 driving with Driver Ability Detection. This brings the car to a stop if it determines that the driver is not attentive and able to take control of the vehicle after 10 seconds of audible and visual warnings. At that point, the vehicle turns on the hazard lights and alerts Audi. Also it's not Level 3 everywhere, just in heavy traffic going slower than 37 miles per hour.

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