Weekly Brief: Audi debuts world’s first Level 3 autonomous vehicle

Hate driving in traffic? The new Audi A8 has got that handled for you. Andrew Tolve reports.

When Audi's new A8 flagship executive cruiser trundles off the factory line this autumn, it will come with a remarkable invitation: drivers can do whatever they want behind the wheel — watch the on-board TV, shave their faces, apply makeup, eat food, talk on the phone or whatever else local laws allow — all without paying a wink of attention to the central act of driving. 

That’s because the A8 is the first production-ready Level 3 autonomous car on the planet, capable of steering, braking and accelerating itself on highways up to a speed of 35 mph. The automated driving system behind the dashboard is called Traffic Jam Pilot and is powered by a NVIDIA processor, along with a suite of sensors, laser scanners and cameras. The system ensures that the driver is present and capable of intervening and that the vehicle is on a limited-access, divided highway. At that point, drivers can take their hands off the wheel and let the car take care of itself.

It's worth noting that obtaining first-to-market advantage with Level 3 autonomy is a race that many carmakers didn't want to win. The handoff between full autonomy and full human intervention is where things tend to get dangerous with self-driving cars, as with some see Tesla crashes, which is why so many companies – from Waymo to Uber to Ford to Volvo – have opted to focus exclusively on delivering Level 4 fully autonomous vehicles but Audi thinks its tech is up to the test. If the driver is needed and does not immediately respond, the car beeps and flashes for attention. It then tightens the seatbelt and slows the car to a halt with the flashers on in the breakdown lane. The car will retail for €90,600 (£79,312) in Europe.

In other news, Lexus announced that the 2018 LS will come with a new suite of advanced driver assistance systems that go from your standard lane detection and dynamic cruise control to more cutting-edge features like Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA), which warns the driver of a risk of a head-on collision at road junctions, and Active Steering Assist, which works in concert with automatic braking to avoid collisions with pedestrians and other obstacles. The LS is not a Level 2 autonomous vehicle and doesn't steer the vehicle around an obstruction while continuing to drive; instead, it slams on the brakes and swerves at the very last second in coming to a standstill to avoid a collision if the driver does not engage.

Toyota invested an initial $100M (£76M) to launch Toyota AI Ventures, a new venture capital subsidiary designed to provide early-stage financing to start-up technology companies. Investment will focus in the areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous mobility and data and cloud technology. The first three start-ups to receive funding are Nauto, SLAMcore and Intuition Robotics

BMW added Skype for Business to its list of offerings on the iDrive infotainment platform. That means drivers of new BMW 5 series vehicles can join business calls from their rides, making commutes more productive for business men and women on the go. Back in December 2016, BMW partnered with Microsoft to become one of the first carmakers to commercially offer Office 365 communications and collaboration services through iDrive.

Tier 1 automotive supplier MOBIS is in the advanced research stage for a Level 4 autonomous technology that would take complete control of a vehicle when it detects that a driver has fallen asleep or is suffering a health emergency like a heart attack. These so-called “departed drivers” lead to more than 6,000 US traffic fatalities a year. MOBIS's Departed Driver Rescue and Exit Manoeuvre (DDREM) technology would run in the background of a vehicle, like airbags and seat belts, and then spring into action when needed, fully steering and braking the car to safety.

The 2018 Honda Odyssey is the first minivan to offer 4G LTE in-vehicle Wi-Fi in the United States. Unlimited data plans from AT&T will start at $20 (£15.26) per month and enable Odyssey passengers to stream video content to the rear entertainment system and browse the internet on up to seven devices.

Finally, artificial intelligence company Cortica launched its first product for the automotive industry — a technology that couples with an in-vehicle camera to capture, identify and remember every object as the car drives, even the pedestrians whose bodies are half obscured behind cars and other obstacles. The technology is thus always learning as it goes and can predict the near future movements of vehicles and pedestrians based on past experiences.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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