Its new AI-infused autonomous tech will drive you hands-free – new A8 limo is the first machine to debut the feature
BARCELONA, SPAIN – Einstein’s Theory of Relativity states that if we could meet, or exceed, the speed light, time travel is a theoretical possibility. While the world is still judged mostly by classical physics, Audi is trying to do the next best thing and says it can pause the clocks and give its customers back an extra hour every day.
This is the goal of the brand’s 25th Hour project, Audi’s vision for how a fully autonomous car with advanced AI (artificial intelligence) doing the driving will allow you to spend your time on the road on other things, such as interacting with friends and family, getting work done or simply taking a rest. The new A8 limousine is the first car in Audi’s plan to do that.
Big words, but what does that really mean for drivers? Audi says the driver of the new A8 will be free to take his hands off the wheel completely to perform another activity, such as reading a book, making a conference call or engaging with his passengers.
The system that allows this is called Audi AI Traffic Jam Pilot, a world first in the realm of driver assistance systems, and the first step to allowing owners to gain back that 25th hour. Traffic Jam Pilot works up to speeds of 60km/h, and completely takes over the wheel from the driver – acceleration, brakes and steering.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has a classification system for autonomous cars , going from zero (Fred Flintstone) to five (I, Robot or Minority Report). Audi considers this use of AI in a specific situation Level 3 autonomy, and boasts the A8 is the first production car with Level 3 autonomy, and which will pave the way for Level 4, wherein autonomous control is expanded to all speeds.
There are similar systems that offer semi-autonomous driving already available here in Singapore – for example the new BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo V90 all have systems that steer, accelerate, brake and keep distance at speeds roughly below 210km/h, but still require the driver to have their hands on the wheel at all times and can be considered Level 2 autonomous cars. Accordingly, these systems are couched as driver assistance systems, meaning the driver is still fully in charge – and thus at fault if anything untoward happens.
The caveat though is that though the technology is there, the legislation might not. Governments will increasingly have to tackle the issue of responsibility: if an incident happens between a Traffic Jam Pilot-enabled Audi and another vehicle, is the driver (who wasn’t in control of the vehicle at the time) to be held liable? Tesla’s troubles with its autopilot systems and the definition of autonomy as well as how it’s marketed is a key example of this still contentious issue.
Thankfully, there shouldn’t be too many obstacles to this technology making its eventual debut in Singapore. Speaking to Jeff Mannering, Managing Director of Audi Singapore, we learned that some testing and calibration will have to be carried out by the company first, to ensure the system works with our unique road markings and infrastructure. After that, it’ll be a relatively straightforward process to be homologated by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Great news for everyone looking to alleviate the soul-crushing drudgery of the daily CTE traffic jam.
Audi AI and the global debut of the new A8 were the two key highlights of the first-ever Audi Summit, a massive brand exhibition that showcased the brand’s vision and mobility solutions for the cities of the future.
It also preludes 2018 as another very busy year for Audi, with CEO Rupert Stadler announcing replacements for the A1, A6, A7 and Q3 models, along with a totally new e-tron (electric vehicle) model, as well as another new development for its AI programme at Frankfurt 2018.
“The Summit marks Audi’s transition from a premium car brand, into a premium digital car company,” said Dietmar Voggenreiter, Audi’s board member for sales and marketing.
Fourth-gen A8: What else is new
Audi’s making sure driver engagement won’t be left aside, plus lots of new points for passenger comfort and on-board technology
Now in its fourth-generation, like its predecessors the A8 is Audi’s flagship and showcases all of Audi’s latest innovations and is the embodiment of the company’s corporate promise of Vorsprung, or Progress – Audi’s signature car if you will, according to CEO Rupert Stadler. Audi itself is something of the ‘first dibs’ test bed for all the new-fangled auto tech that its conglomerate, the Volkswagen Group, thinks up.
In terms of looks, the A8 bears the new face of Audi’s upcoming models, with a single-frame grille that is much wider and lower than before. The car also bears a very distinctive light signature, with powerful HD Matrix LED headlights with a laser “spotlight”, and OLED tailights which can produce very unique light animations. Of note also is the flatter rake on the C-pillar which creates a sleeker fastback profile despite the car’s height and rear headroom (20mm more than its predecessor) increase. According to designer Amar Vaya, the A8’s profile was inspired by luxury yachts, with a stately upright nose, and a slanted, boat-like tail.
di AI is also prevalent in the A8’s new active suspension system. The car scans the road ahead and is able to react to road imperfections and driving situations more effectively than ever, similar to the Magic Ride Control featured in the Mercedes S-Class Coupe. Electric actuators are able to raise and lower wheels independently of each other (e.g. raising a wheel to prevent it from crashing into a pothole), and provide much more flexible control depending if comfort or dynamism is needed. The active suspension is even able to contribute to safety if an imminent side impact is detected, it is able to rapidly raise that side of the car up to 80mm to better absorb the crash forces and protect the occupants. Audi calls this Pre Sense 360°.