The new Audi A8 reaches Level 3
Audi AI traffic jam pilot takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 km/h (37 mph) on freeways and highways using sensor fusion and the world’s first laser scanner.
The new A8, in its fourth generation as the brand’s flagship model, debuts a new Audi design language, an innovative touchscreen operating concept, and a more electrified drive. But more significantly, it is also the first production car to have been developed for highly automated driving, claims Audi, with the first production use of a laser scanning or lidar sensor. Beginning next year, the company will gradually be metering out piloted driving functions such as parking pilot, garage pilot, and traffic jam pilot into production.
The Audi AI traffic jam pilot takes charge of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 km/h (37 mph) on freeways and highways where a physical barrier separates the two directions. With the highly automated Level 3 system, the car takes over the task of driving in certain situations. Unlike with the current state-of-the-art Level 2 systems on the road, A8 driver’s will no longer need to constantly monitor automated-driving systems, but they must be capable of taking back responsibility whenever those systems require intervention.
The system is activated using the AI button on the center console, and it manages starting, accelerating, steering, and braking. Drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel permanently, claims Audi, and, depending on the national laws, focus on different activities supported by the car such as watching the onboard TV. As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back control of the driving task.
During highly automated driving, a small interior camera detects if the driver gets tired or falls sleep and, if either happens, a multi-stage warning is given. Also, if vehicle speed rises above 60 km/h or another complex driving situation arises, the traffic jam pilot informs the driver that they need to take charge of driving once again. If they ignore this prompt and the subsequent warnings, the A8 is braked to a safe standstill.
The introduction of traffic jam pilot depends on laws in each individual market along with the region-specific definition of the application and testing of the system, so Audi will be adopting a step-by-step approach to the introduction of the traffic jam pilot in production models.
Traffic jam pilot details
Audi says that, from a technical perspective, the traffic jam pilot is revolutionary. During piloted driving, a central driver assistance controller, called zFAS, computes an image of the surroundings by merging sensor data from radar sensors, a front camera, ultrasonic sensors, and the first-in-the-industry use of a laser scanner or lidar. The zFAS, around the size of a tablet computer, integrates high-performance computers from Nvidia (Tegra K1), Altera (Cyclon V), Infineon (Aurix), and Mobileye (EyeQ3 image processor).
Specifically, traffic jam pilot and many of the advanced driver assistance systems (ADASs) are enabled by a new set of sensors comprising twelve ultrasonic sensors on the front, sides, and rear; four 360-degree cameras on the rear, exterior mirrors, and at the top edge of the windscreen; four mid-range radars at the vehicle’s corners; one long-range radar on the front; one infrared camera (night vision assist) on the front; and one laser scanner in the front bumper.
Instead of several control units, the central zFAS driver assistance controller creates a comprehensive image of the surroundings from sensor data for a wide range of assistance functions. The overall picture is created by complementary sensor systems as well as redundant data fusion in the zFAS and the radar control unit. All assistance systems benefit from the central model, whether it be for the adaptive driving assistant, active suspension, park assistance function, or traffic jam pilot. Traffic signs are combined with data from a digital map.
The laser scanner, which is “roughly the size of a fist,” emits light pulses on several vertical planes, with a mirror distributing them over a field about 80 m (263 ft) deep and through a 145-degree beam range. The flashes, in the near infrared wavelength range making them invisible and harmless to the human eye, are reflected by objects and are returned to the laser scanner where they are detected by photodiodes.
Together with the long-range radar and the front camera, the laser scanner forms a trio of complementary sensors. The laser detects all kinds of objects (including non-metallic ones) with precision and a wide beam angle. The radar has a range of up to 250 m (820 ft), a greater height range, and delivers readings even in rain and fog. Laser scanners and radar also work in the dark if the front camera comes up against its light limits. In good visibility conditions, the camera produces high-resolution images of the vehicle’s near- and mid-range surroundings. It is capable of classifying many individual objects--such as automobiles, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians--thanks to an image database. Deep learning methods are used for the first time by Audi for the image processing system, which uses neural networks as part of its self-learning approach when determining which characteristics are appropriate and relevant for identifying the various objects.
41 driver assistance systems
All told, Audi says there are 41 driver-assistance systems in the A8 including a new assist for identifying crossing vehicles with help of optional mid-range radars, as well as maneuvering assist and curb warning. In Germany, Audi groups the assistance systems in three packages called Park, City, and Tour (standard). Customers who opt for the Audi AI assist package plus obtain all three packages and also an Audi AI remote garage pilot.
The Audi AI suite of functions also includes remote parking pilot and remote garage pilot steer, which allows the A8 to independently move into and out of a parking space or garage without the driver inside the car. From a smartphone using the new myAudi app, the driver can monitor the parking maneuver while holding the Audi AI button pressed to watch a live display on their device from the car’s 360-degree cameras.
Also under the Audi AI umbrella is a “fully active” suspension system that is capable of raising or lowering each wheel separately with electric actuators. It allows for a broad range of driving characteristics, ranging from a smooth luxury ride to sports car-like dynamics. Also, in combination with pre sense 360°, the car can be raised quickly for an impending lateral collision to reduce potential occupant injury. The suspension gets its energy from the 48-volt primary electrical system that is standard in all A8 models.
V2X and HMI
The new A8 joins the cloud with Audi connect navigation and infotainment services, one of the principal elements being the car-to-X (or V2X) services for traffic sign and hazard information. The new car, like some current Audi models, reports speed limits detected with an onboard camera to a server in the cloud, which then is disseminated to other Audis that might benefit from it.
In addition, the A8’s hazard-information service warns one other cars in the network about accidents, broken-down vehicles, slippery road surfaces, or impaired visibility. The system does this by analyzing multiple parameters such as the in-car electronics, data from rain and light sensors, the headlights, and the operating mode of the windshield wipers.
One of the key information sources for the new car-to-X services relates to maps supplied by Here, a data platform that Audi, in partnership with the BMW Group and Daimler AG, is continuously updating and expanding. It surveys the world of traffic with centimeter precision and can detect and evaluate events in real time.
In addition to car-to-X services, Audi connect includes an array of other services such as access to Twitter, email, and Google Earth navigation. A new hybrid radio service switches seamlessly between VHF, DAB (digital audio broadcast), and online stations to find the best reception. It recognizes the current music track and loads context information from the cloud. The online radio function enable access to thousands of Internet radio stations and podcasts available worldwide.
The infotainment functions are accessible and controllable through a number of interfaces. In addition to MMI (multimedia interface) touch response displays and “hybrid” voice control, the new car has a third major controller in the multifunction steering wheel, which can be used to call up driving and vehicle information as well as activate the primary infotainment functions.
Primary information is displayed in the instrument-cluster-replacing Audi virtual cockpit, its 12.3-inch TFT monitor fed by a separate Nvidia K1 computer unit providing HD resolution of 1920 x 720 pixels. The driver can choose between two interfaces. In classic view, the virtual instruments are similar in size to analog displays. Between them is a window in which the navigation map or telephone, radio, and audio lists are displayed. In infotainment mode, the center window is maximized and the speedometer and rev counter are reduced in size. An optional headup display projects information in quickly perceived symbols and numbers within the driver’s direct field of view, including speed, navigation messages and information from certain assistance systems.