Earlier this week in Barcelona, Spain, German car manufacturer Audi took the veil off its upcoming A8 model, which will be the first production vehicle to employ Level 3 autonomous driving functionality. The carmaker revealed that NVIDIA technologies will sit at the core of Audi's zFAS system responsible for driver assistance and various other AI-based (artificial intelligence) features including Remote Park Pilot, Natural Voice Control, Swarm Intelligence, and Traffic Jam Pilot, which was one of the features that drew the most attention from the audience.
Level 3 self-driving is the next step in the evolution of autonomous vehicles. Once certain road conditions are met, the system allows drivers to divert their attention away from the road while letting the AI do the driving for them. This sounds similar to Tesla's Autopilot function, except for the fact that Tesla's solution is a Level 2 system which requires drivers to always pay attention to the road as a failsafe measure and be ready to take over the wheel whenever necessary. In contrast, a Level 3 autonomous system is designed to be self-sufficient while in use, and it only informs the driver when it's time to take over control of the car. However, in the case of the Audi A8, the Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot self-driving technology powered by NVIDIA comes with a small caveat, as it was primarily designed to be used in heavy traffic conditions on highways and at maximum speeds of up to 37 mph (59 km/h). In other words, while Audi and NVIDIA's solution it is a more complex self-driving technology and the first production system to make use of data from both cameras and laser scanners at a rate of 2.5 billion inputs per second, the Traffic Jam Pilot was not designed to operate as an auto-pilot at high speeds on long journeys.
NVIDIA's processors will not only power the Audi A8's zFAS self-driving technology but will also lend their prowess to the vehicle's infotainment system, the second-generation virtual cockpit, as well as the two Audi tablets embedded in the front seats for use by the rear seat passengers. The Audi A8 will be the first vehicle to ship with Level 3 self-driving technology and will go on sale in 2018.