New 2017 Audi A8 lets its drivers take hands off the wheel

Published: 06 April 2017

► Hands-free ‘highly automated driving’
► Takes over in slow highway traffic
► Other car makers working on similar tech

Luxury car owners traditionally spend most of their time in the back seats, letting Jeeves do the driving. Even Jeeves can take his hands off the wheel in the upcoming new Audi A8, as Audi promises that it will be the first production car with 'Level 3' autonomous driving functions.

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That’s because the latest version of Audi’s poshest car allows ‘highly automated driving on the highway’ at speeds of up to 60kph (37mph). ‘In the first application stage, the car takes over the task of driving. The driver can then do other things as long as he or she remains alert’, stated Rupert Stadler, chairman of Audi’s board of management at the company’s recent AGM.

‘In slowly moving traffic on the highway at speeds of up to 60kph (37mph), it will be possible to take one’s hands from the steering wheel and switch over to the data highway, where our information and entertainment services will be available,’ he added.

Don’t fancy driving yourself across town?

The A8 should be able to take the strain during urban trips, too, claimed Stadler: ‘We see potential for highly automated driving also in the city, where traffic is highly complex.’

More than this, the next decade will also see the arrival of robot taxis, Stadler predicts. Motorists will also start to experience cars without a steering wheel and pedals ‘on predefined short journeys’, he continued.

As for exactly when these features will arrive, the Audi boss sees legal delays to the implementation of self-driving technology:  ‘As soon as legislation is passed in our core markets allowing highly automated driving on the highway, and when that is legally safe, we will offer the new key technology in the Audi A8.’

Audi is heading up the VW Group’s self-driving developments, having just founded a separate company called Autonomous Intelligent Driving GmbH – a platform that is open to contributions from automotive and IT partners.

What is Level 3 autonomous driving?

Most new cars are lauching with Level 2-stage autonomous tech, which includes things like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking. It means that the driver is still in control, but some actions are given to the car to do instead.

Level 3 autonomy means that a driver is still required, but a lot of actual driving can be done by the car. The driver is required in case certain situations arise, but they don't have to be as alert or in control as someone in a Level 2 car.

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By Christofer Lloyd

Finance editor on our sister website Parkers. Really knows his way around PCP, HP and PCH, not to mention BHP and TLAs