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2019 March
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Car and Driver: Audi: Full Autonomy Still 10 Years Away

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Delphi-Autonomous-Drive-Audi

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Elon Musk’s prediction earlier this month that a Tesla will drive itself across the U.S. within “24 to 36 months” has garnered a lot of attention—but also triggered skepticism among some rivals. Carlos Ghosn, for one, is sticking to his earlier prediction that the first self-driving Nissan will come in 2020. And Audi USA president Scott Keogh was even more pessimistic on timing (or optimistic, if you’re not a great fan of the idea of a world filled with robot cars).

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This Audi TTS completed the Pikes Peak hill climb in 2010. Autonomously.

This Audi TTS completed the Pikes Peak hill climb in 2010. Autonomously.

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“It’s a definition problem,” Keogh said, when asked to comment on Musk’s prediction. “If the definition is, I leave my home, I press a button and that car will take me to wherever I want to go, no hands on the wheel, completely autonomously, then it’s not going to happen for a long time. From my point of view, ten-plus years.”

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Audi predicts that there are going to be different levels of autonomy in different areas alongside incremental improvements. “There is going to be an environment with a defined area, an urban area, that will completely gridded, completely mapped,” Keogh explained. “All the data and intelligence will be there. Autonomous vehicles will be operating there sooner. The second one is what you see with Audi piloted driving, adaptive cruise control that gets better and better with every generation. You see that in the marketplace now. Then we’re launching traffic-jam assist with the Q7 and A4 which works up to 37 mph and is handling autonomous driving, but every 15 seconds you need to grab the wheel to prove you’re still awake. If the road isn’t lined, if the sensors aren’t reading, then you’re going to have to take control.”

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The toughest technical challenge for self-driving systems comes with interpreting low-speed priorities. “A lot of natural human rhythms work in a way that’s very difficult for lasers and sonar to read,” Keogh said, “you have your classic four-way stop intersection in America and we all know there’s a rhythm to how you get across that thing, you stick your nose out a little more, you make eye contact, there’s a common understanding, and then off you go. If the system literally tries to do it by the letter of the law, holding at a stop sign because that’s what the law says, you might be there a couple of hours while people are all edging in.”

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Yet Keogh says that demand for autonomous systems is definitely there, especially at the luxury end of the market.

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“You look at the adaptive cruise that we already have and we have 70 percent penetration in the A6 and A7,” he said, “and almost 100 percent in A8. People wouldn’t be paying for this sort of tech if they don’t want it or don’t use it.”

-MwiPdNYVKkU

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