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Look at what an Audi with brains can do

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AUDI'S big boast with the new A8 is that it's the first production car with Level 3 autonomous driving capabilities. It simply means that in a car with the AI system and Traffic Jam Assist, the system can be engaged to do all the driving and leave the driver free to do other things.

There are limitations, though: It works only at speeds below 60km/h, there needs to be traffic in front of you, a solid barrier on one side (for safety reasons), and it can work only on highways. Since it's the first system of this kind, it is also subject to local government approval first.

The drawbacks make it sound unimpressive, given that other systems like Volvo's Pilot Assist and Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot can do similar things. But they require a driver's constant attention and input. Audi's is a small but significant step forward for autonomous driving.

"Some people get carried away when they hear it's autonomous driving, but the fact is that Audi is the first company to roll out this feature in a full-production car," says Mirko Reuter, the engineer-in-charge of the car's driver assistance systems. "No other company can boast that."

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For now, what might be more useful is the range of convenience and safety features the car gains as a result of being able to see, process and react to its surroundings.

Making the system work is a complex control unit made by Delphi, which aggregates information from the A8's various sensor systems (including laser, radar, camera, ultrasonic types). These tell the car where it is and what's around it, and allow for additional functions such as remote self-parking, the AI Suspension system as well as headlight control.

Parking or unparking the car can be done remotely from outside the vehicle, via a tethered smartphone app and feature called Audi AI Parking Pilot. There's also a system called Manoeuvring Assist which stops you from hitting objects at low speed, and a 'live' 3D image of the car in its current surroundings to make parking a breeze.

In short, while the A8's autonomous abilities are limited, the brain and sensory power needed to make them happen make it a seriously smart car for power users.