Audi Traffic Jam Pilot Level 3 Driving Assistance Tech Delayed by Stalled Regulators

Rebecca Lindland | Apr 28, 2020

Regulatory delays are causing Audi to forsake plans to launch Traffic Jam Pilot, its Level 3 semi-autonomous driving technology, according to a report in Automotive News Europe. Governing approval is required for any eyes-off, self-driving Level 3 system, but in the three years since Audi introduced the technology, intended for its flagship A8 model, legislative agencies in Geneva have yet to agree on an approval process for even the most basic Level 3 functionality.

Audi Traffic Jam Pilot

Audi waited for regulatory decisions before it could make Traffic Jam Pilot available to its customers. Now, without a formal compliance protocol in place, the system will not be ready for the refreshed version of the Audi A8 due next year.

"We will not see the Traffic Jam Pilot on the road with its originally planned Level 3 functionality in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle," Audi Technical Development boss Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler told Automotive News Europe.

Designed for use in stop-and-go traffic on divided highways, Traffic Jam Pilot autonomously steers, accelerates, and brakes the A8 while traveling at speeds up to 37 mph (60 kph). With Traffic Jam Pilot active, the driver is free to relax behind the wheel, easing fatigue and giving time back for other pursuits.

Audi had planned to be the first automaker to offer private buyers Level 3 functionality. This setback may now send the brand to the back of the line behind competitors like BMW and Mercedes-Benz, among other brands.

At no time was Traffic Jam Pilot planned for the U.S. market. Today, Waymo operates a Level 4 taxi service in Phoenix, but the technology is not commercially available. Tesla's Autopilot, General Motors' Super Cruise, and Nissan's ProPilot Assist are Level 2 only, meaning the driver must remain fully engaged and attentive, taking over when needed. Importantly, responsibility (and liability) for safe use of these Level 2 systems is with the driver.

According to Automotive News Europe, Audi's in-house attorneys warned executives legal responsibility for Level 3 functionality rests with the manufacturer, even if the system is deemed "99.9% safe."

There's legitimate concern about consumers using the driving mode correctly and remaining alert, particularly when it comes to resuming control over the system. "Level 3 pushes the boundaries on what you expect the human to do, and it makes it difficult to discern 'Am I driving or riding?' on a moment-to-moment basis," says Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at the Center for Transportation and Logistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Learn more about this.)

Audi's focus is now on mastering Level 2 systems due in part to liability concerns. Audi's Rothenpieler admits, "The euphoria in the auto industry around Level 3 has subsided substantially," he tells Automotive News Europe. "Currently, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving, and it is not possible to homologate such functions anywhere in the world in a series production car."

In the meantime, navigating traffic jams remains in the hands of drivers.

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