Level 3: The Audi A8

Audi has announced Level 3 autonomous driving functionality in the upcoming 2018 A8 model. This would make Audi the first car manufacturer ever to release a Level 3 vehicle.

As a brief recap, the Society of Automotive Engineers publishes five autonomy levels.

Level 1 — Driver Assistance: The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task
Level 2 — Partial Automation: The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task
Level 3 — Conditional Automation: The driving mode-specific performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene
Level 4 — High Automation: The driving mode-specific performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene
Level 5 — Full Automation: The full-time performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver

The controversial phrase in the Level 3 definition is:

“with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene”

Some companies — most notably Google and Ford — contend that it’s not realistic to tell human drivers that they can divert their attention and then expect them to intervene quickly enough to avert an accident.

Audi seems more confident about human drivers, although they are rolling their system out slowly, presumably in an effort to better test and verify the car and the drivers.

Full Level 3 autonomous driving will be limited to divided highway scenarios at under 60 kmh (~35 mph). Basically, traffic jam driving. Which is the worst type of driving, so I look forward to the day when the computer takes that over in my own car.

The 2018 Audi A8 isn’t actually on the market yet, although it should be soon, and it’s price will start at 90,600 euro (~US$103,000). Definitely a luxury vehicle, and an exciting one.