The next-generation Audi A8 is set to be the first fully autonomous car when it goes on sale in 2017 - and the technology will filter down into the new A7, A6 and Q8 as they are subsequently launched.
The fully autonomous function, reported to be called Traffic Jam Assist, will operate at up to 60km/h (about 37mph) in congested motorway traffic and - unlike any system currently available - fully control the car without any input or monitoring from the driver. A separate Park Assist function will also be available and will park the car automatically with the driver outside of the car, controlling it via an app on their smartphone.
Audi is believed to have taken the decision that it is willing to take liability for any incidents when the car is in its self-driving mode, although the driver will still be responsible for the car in other semi-autonomous situations.
A new in-car screen system is believed to have been developed to clearly identify to the driver when the fully autonomous Traffic Jam Assist mode is operating, with Audi reportedly having worked with aviation experts to develop the visuals after it was discovered that most aircraft incidents are attributed to the pilot not realising what modes their planes were in.
The system will use a camera to monitor the driver continuously and is capable of pulling the car off the road and to a stop if necessary. Incidents that would trigger the fail-safe system include if a driver climbed out of the driver’s seat - as has happened on some semi-autonomous systems being trialled now by other manufacturers - or if the driver fell ill. “It can recognise health problems, try to alert the driver and - if they don’t respond - pull the car over and alert the emergency services,” said a source.
Intriguingly, Autocar has learned that the next-generation A8, A7 and A6, plus the new Q8, will feature a new Artificial Intelligence system that will be able to learn and predict owners’ behaviour. While details remain scarce, it is expected that one facet of it will be to learn regular destinations and then automatically input them in the sat-nav when it recognises the driver is heading towards them.