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Car and Driver: Audi’s Latest Concept Previews Next-Gen A8’s Autonomous-Driving Tech

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Traditionally outsold by the Mercedes-Benz S-class and the BMW 7-series, it seems Audi may counter slow sales of its A8 flagship by making the next generation of the car drive itself out of showrooms. Due on sale in Europe next year, the fourth-generation A8 will deliver Audi’s version of what it calls “Piloted Driving” technology that will allow drivers to sit back and relax while the car does the work.

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Much of the technology behind the A8’s piloted driving system made its public debut in the h-tron Quattro concept, including its newly developed video camera, its radar and ultrasonic sensors, and its laser scanner. The technology will let the A8 drive itself from stop up to 37 mph and it will park itself, too, whether the driver is in the car or not. (BMW also offers a remote-parking function in non-U.S. 7-series, and Tesla just added the ability to its vehicles, including in America.) The next A8 also will follow the lead of the current A6, A7, and A8 by letting drivers take their hands off the wheel at highway speeds for short periods of time before alerting them to retake control.

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While it doesn’t seem as if the car will offer much more than current Audi models when it launches, the key is that the next-gen A8 will be ready for the day when autonomous driving becomes more widespread and more accepted.

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One big step is the introduction of separate control units sited in different parts of the car, which will become a core tenet of the Audi Piloted Driving architecture and will be rolled out in most of its medium-to-large future models. A digital driver (dubbed the Central Driver Assistance System, or its German abbreviation zFAS) takes all the information pumped in by all of the car’s sensors, new and old, and builds a complete model of the car’s surroundings in real time. It then sends this model back to the car’s Piloted Driving systems, including the throttle, steering, brakes, indicators, lights, and transmission, so the car can move itself around and give the driver the day off.

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The bulk of the modeling comes from the laser scanner, which reaches more than 260 feet ahead of the h-tron Quattro concept (and, in time, the A8) and feeds it back into the tablet-sized zFAS, which alone has more computing power than the entire Audi A4. The result is a car that can brake, accelerate, and steer itself at most urban speeds and in highway traffic jams. As mentioned, it will also be able to park itself via the key fob or a smartphone app, without any other input from the driver.

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2016 Detroit Auto Show Full Coverage

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