The Traffic Jam Pilot system installed on the Audi A8 achieves highly automated driving at level 3, taking full control of driving in traffic of up to 60 km/h on motorways and divided highways by managing starting, accelerating, steering and braking within its lane.
Tailbacks and slowdowns caused by heavy traffic are one of the most common problems in cities all over the world. Slow moving, stop-start traffic requires drivers’ full and complete attention. In these situations, the slightest distraction can cause a collision, albeit often at low speed. This situation becomes much less problematic on board new Audi A8 equipped with Traffic Jam Pilot, managed by an artificial intelligence algorithm which can achieve level 3 automated driving in congested traffic at speeds of up to 60 km/h.
However, the moment when drivers can simply press the button and fully take their attention off the road has not yet arrived. Many hours of testing on German highways remain before the car can really do everything by itself.
Peter Bergmiller is Traffic Jam Pilot Project Leader in the Ingolstadt Technical Development Department, a place where cars stuffed with instrumentation are more evocative of a jet airplane. “Traffic jams are lost time. Our aim is to make this time in heavy traffic as pleasant for customers as possible. They should be able to make better use of their time in the vehicle”, Bergmiller explains. Computer simulations play an important role in development, however road testing is essential for eliminating uncertainties.
“It’s important for us to see how other drivers behave in a wide variety of situations”, adds Bergmiller. There are things that are second nature to human drivers, such as moving over to let an emergency vehicle pass, but teaching this to software is not so simple. In the same way, calibrating the sensors is also a delicate procedure, for instance those required by the software to recognise the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. “We have to determine the moment when the driver takes back control”, explains Bergmiller’s colleague Lautenschlager. “But how do you tell the car that?” And then Bergmiller adds: “Because we’re entering new territory with this technology, new standards and regulations have to be fulfilled worldwide, with some still in the process of being written”. It is also important not to forget that driving habits are different all over the world: in China, for example, drivers change lanes very differently to how Europeans do.
The driver activates the traffic jam pilot with the Audi AI button on the center console. On freeways and highways, where a physical barrier separates the two carriageways, the system takes over the driving task in traffic jam and slow-moving traffic at up to 60 km/h. In these situations the traffic jam pilot manages starting, accelerating, steering and braking. The Traffic Jam Pilot is also able to handle demanding situations, such as vehicles cutting across the lane, thanks to the central driver assistance control unit (zFAS), and data from other sensors such as the radar and cameras.
When the Traffic Jam Pilot is activated, the drivers can take their foot off the accelerator and their hands off the wheel. They are no longer required to constantly monitor the vehicle and, depending on the applicable highway code, are able to devote their attention to activities supported by the infotainment system. In this highly automated driving mode, a camera checks whether the driver is ready to retake control of the vehicle by analysing the position and movement of the head and the blinking.
As soon as the speed rises above 60 km/h or the line of vehicles breaks up, the traffic jam pilot informs the driver that they need to take charge of driving once again. If the driver ignores this notification and subsequent warnings, the A8 will brake continuously until it comes to a stop within its lane. The introduction of the Audi AI Traffic Jam Pilot means the statutory framework will need to be clarified in each individual country, along with the specific definition of the application and testing of the system. For these reasons, Audi is gradually introducing Traffic Jam Pilot to series production A8 on the basis of the regulatory situation in the countries of sale.