Audi gives up on Level 3 autonomous driver-assist system in A8
Audi is giving up on its most advanced driver-assist system. The German automaker will no longer add its Traffic Jam Pilot system to the A8 sedan in Europe or anywhere else in the world, Automotive News Europe reported Tuesday.
It’s now too late to add the system to the current-generation A8, as the car is already well into its lifecycle, Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler, Audi head of technical development, said in an interview with the publication. The A8 debuted in 2017 and is scheduled to get a mid-cycle refresh next year.
Never offered in the United States, Traffic Jam Pilot is considered a Level 3 system on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) autonomy scale. The SAE considers Level 3 to be “conditions; autonomy,” meaning a system has a degree of automation in specific situations, but must still be monitored by a human driver.
However, in Europe, the Level 3 system would not require a driver to monitor the road and the liability in case of an accident when engaged would transfer to the automaker.
Traffic Jam Pilot was designed to automatically steer, accelerate, and brake on highways. Audi planned to allow the system to be used only on divided highways, in stop-and-go traffic at speeds up to 37 mph. The system would only be activated in countries with regulatory approval, but that proved to be a complicated issue.
2019 Audi A8 self-driving hardware
Because they are more advanced than other driver-assist systems, but not genuinely autonomous, Level 3 systems exist in a regulator gray area. When Traffic Jam Pilot was first announced in 2017, Audi said it would wait for governments to establish a regulatory framework before making the system widely available. That never happened and most countries still haven’t created comprehensive rules for driver-assist tech.
Drivers must also know the limitations of a Level 3 system, and be ready to take back control at a moment’s notice. The liability risk from misuse is another concern for automakers fielding this technology. Automotive News Europe reported that corporate lawyers had warned Audi executives of the potential for misuse of Traffic Jam Pilot, saying Audi would be liable in the event of crash with the system activated.
Audi wasn’t planning to offer Traffic Jam Pilot in the U.S., saying at the time of the launch of the current-generation A8 that the market and infrastructure weren’t ready. U.S.-spec cars have shipped with the sensor suite needed for Traffic Jam Pilot, but without other components, such as steering and brake redundancies. The A8 gets a more basic adaptive cruise control system, along with other driver aids, in the U.S.
Level 3 has been discussed as a stepping stone to self-driving cars, but it does not enable autonomous driving. No self-driving cars are currently on sale from any manufacturer, and some automakers have said they don’t plan to skip this level due to liability issues with drivers who may not take care of their cars.