Audi board member Dr Dietmar Voggenreiter told CarAdvice the brand is marching ahead with autonomous driving technology, despite government legislation around the world yet to catch up with the new tech. He also revealed that, like Volvo, Audi will take full responsibility for any accident or fatality caused by an Audi while engaged in autonomous mode.
“This is not big news,” Dr Voggenreiter said. “If you take over responsibility that allows the driver to take off the hands, then you are responsible, yes? This is not big news.
"This is part of the legal situation and the regulation side. This is not big news, for sure. If we take over the responsibility [of the car] and you are allowed to read your emails or whatever, then we are responsible.”
“Next year we will open up the world of autonomous driving in a real way, with the new A8,” he said.
"When you are driving on a freeway or in a normal urban situation, at speeds of up to 65km/h, you will be able to take your hands off [the steering wheel], and the car will do the braking, the accelerating, the changing lanes, and you can really read a book or whatever you want to do.”
The car will have an inbuilt system to alert the driver, who, according to Dr Voggenreiter may be reading a book, checking emails or even engaging with friends on social media, when a situation demands the driver take control of the vehicle.
"If the car detects a situation, like you are coming into a construction zone, for instance, then it will ask you to take over again, but it will give you a 15 to 20-second warning of that."
Of course, Dr Voggenreiter acknowledged the major hurdle now facing car manufacturers wasn’t the technology itself, but the regulations and legislation that would allow autonomous cars to drive on our roads.
"In the United States we see a clear trend to allow this, and in China, but in Europe we are a little more conservative. And it is hard to predict whether the Australian government will be the quickest to follow the US," he added.
"Basically we will make the technology available so people can test it. We will explain it to governments, tell them how safe it is, and share the data to convince them."
Audi Australia spokesperson Shaun Cleary revealed the German carmaker had started initial discussions with local regulators about the future of autonomous vehicles but could not confirm that local deliveries of Audi’s new A8, due here in 2018, would feature the technology.
“It will depend on legislation and often [that legislation] is actually state based," he said. "It is a challenging conversation but it's an important one, and we're already having it… but we need to have a car to show the authorities what it can do."
Above: the next-generation Audi A8
Dr Voggenreiter believed autonomous driving would lead to a reduction in the road toll and, while an ambitious target, ultimately zero fatalities.
"In the long run we will see Level 5, cars with no steering wheels and no pedals. This will come and we are working on this technology now," he added.
"It is not easy to predict whether it will be 2020, 2035 or 2040, but from a technology point of view, it will be possible."