Audi has taken out the gong with the world's first level 3 autonomous vehicle, but the best news for consumers is that the manufacturer has confirmed it will take full responsibility in the event of an accident.
The all-new Audi A8 debuts an autonomous driving technology designed to work in traffic jams. It gives drivers the ability to activate the system, take their eyes off the road and focus on more important tasks.
The level 3 autonomy technology brings with it huge liability issues for manufacturers, which has driven Audi to implement a number of safeguards to ensure the system works flawlessly.
Speaking at the reveal of the technology in Germany this week, Audi's boss of pre-development of automated driving, Dr Thorsten Leonhardt told CarAdvice that the technology is now here and Audi has accepted the liability risk.
"When the function is operated as intended, if the customer turns the traffic jam pilot on and uses it as intended, and the car was in control at the time of the accident, the driver goes to his insurance company and the insurance company will compensate the victims of the accident and in the aftermath they come to us and we have to pay them," said Leonhardt.
Within the A8 autonomous control system is a data recorded that precisely records the activation, deactivation and sensor data. This data recorder also ensures that in the event of an accident where the driver claims the car was in control, Audi can cross-reference the data.
The data remains the property of the customer and can't be accessed by Audi remotely, which means they are always in control with regards to their driving history.
If you’re unfamiliar with the autonomous driving hierarchy, there are five levels.
Levels 1 and 2 are limited to vehicles where there’s never an expectation of full autonomy – that is, the driver always needs to be in control of the vehicle. Some of the systems that fall into these categories include radar cruise control, Tesla’s current iteration of AutoPilot, semi-automatic parking technology and so on.
At level 3, the driver is able to let the vehicle fully control its operation when activated. The driver is able to take their eyes off the road and isn’t expected to pay attention. The vehicle is able to dynamically take control of random situations thrown at it and the driver only becomes responsible again once the system alerts them to take over.
This is one step down from level 4 autonomy, where the car will be able to control the entire driving process from start to finish. An example of this is Google’s Waymo test car, which drives entirely on its own.
Finally, level 5 autonomy is a vehicle that will drive itself, but doesn’t feature a steering wheel or pedals.
To see the all-new Audi A8 in action, check out our review of Traffic Jam Pilot.