Speaking with CarAdvice at the launch of the new Audi A6 in Dresden, Germany, the company’s head of product communications, Stefan Moser, confirmed plans for the system’s unveiling at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.
Moser predicted Audi would be ready with fully autonomous vehicle technology in about two years, though said government regulations may slow down its introduction to the market.
“[The] regulation, that’s a problem, but we can have the car in 2016, 2017," Moser said. "The next A8 will have it, full autonomous.
“If you have a proper [autonomous] system, it will be always better than human beings. They are not phoning, talking to the neighbour, [getting distracted by] a nice girl on the right side [of the road], there are so many distractions. In my opinion our cars are better than the most of the drivers. It’s the truth.”
Although the A8 will be capable of driving itself, Audi’s ultimate philosophy at this time is to build a system that will help the driver rather than completely take over all of the time.
“It’s a system to help the driver, not to takeover. Otherwise people don’t want to give so much money for a car, [if] the car is doing everything they can go by train or something else. Most of the people will drive the car.”
The artificial intelligence (AI) system in the next-generation A8, which Moser boldly claims has a zero error rate, will work with a failover double-redundancy that will check itself twice before intervening in the event of a potential accident.
“You have a minimum of two systems, who calculate every situation in a different way, you have to find the situation, the driver makes a mistake you have to check. The first system will say something is wrong, the second system will check it and if there’s something wrong the car will do something to keep the driver safe.”
“Two decisions are not two computers with the same algorithm, it’s completely different mathematical method to find the same result in two ways.”
Although currently not the plan for the upcoming A8, which is expected to go on sale in 2016 or 2017, Audi has the capacity to allow the two AI systems to take over and overrule the driver in the future.
“The two systems together can overrule the driver, in the future. If they sense there’s something wrong, driver makes a mistake, it will take over. [But that’s] in the future, not right now.”
The issue of completely taking over is perhaps less to do with consumer reluctance of AI, and more to do with legal liability.
“If we take it over, if we decide by car, then we are charged for liability. Is the insurance for Audi or the driver?”
Moser admitted the idea of bringing about autonomous driving wasn’t just for Audi’s sake, but focused on the real-world needs of customers.
“We don’t build dreams, balloons that float in the end. When we show you something you can be sure it will be in a car in the next one and a half years. It’s important to show things that will come, not just dreams.”
Audi, like other manufacturers investing millions into AI for vehicles, will no doubt have to deal with the negativity of an autonomous car that will inevitably find itself in a serious accident, regardless of culpability.
Firstly, though, the regulations will be the main challenge. With California leading the charge in allowing autonomous cars on the road, other countries and regions are set to follow in time.
Currently it’s illegal for Australian drivers to remove both hands from the steering wheel at any time while operating a vehicle. So while the next-generation Audi A8 may be able to drive itself, it’s unlikely local regulations will have changed in time to make that feature a possibility for our market.