Audi hangs up hopes for Level 3 partial automation system

In Europe, Audi was supposed to include its Traffic Jam Pilot system with the A8 sedan, but it's off the table entirely now.

Level 3 is off the table at Audi.

There's a reason some automakers are skipping Level 3 partially automated driving systems and aiming straight for Level 4, and Audi's the latest marque to discover the potential trouble the tech's rollout may cause.

Automotive News Europe reported Tuesday Audi will no longer add a Level 3 system, called Traffic Jam Pilot, to the A8 sedan in Europe. The hyped technology was also initially confirmed for the US, though it was scrapped earlier for the country over similar fears that played out in Europe in the years to come, namely legal framework. Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler, Audi's head of technical development, told the publication it's simply too late to add the technology as the current A8's already through a good portion of its lifecycle. Audi of Europe did not immediately return Roadshow's request for comment.

The deeper problem reportedly comes down to liability and the unknowns surrounding the Level 3 partial automation. According to the report, Audi had trouble getting regulatory approval and corporate lawyers cautioned Traffic Jam Pilot could leave the company exposed to legal issues in the event of a crash. Should a wreck occur with Traffic Jam Pilot engaged, Audi would've been liable, not the driver.

Rothenpieler further told the publication there's simply no legal framework for the technology and it would be impossible to homologate Traffic Jam Pilot anywhere in the world.

Level 3 technology on the SAE scale of autonomy allows drivers to take their eyes off the road, but only under certain conditions. In this case, Audi planned to let the car do the driving in certain instances on highways, but the drivers still needed to remain on guard to take back control as needed.

With such a caveat, it almost makes the feature more stressful than anything, at least in my opinion. It's why some companies bypassed Level 3 and began shooting for Level 4, which allows nearly full autonomy. Even if there's an issue, a Level 4 car won't need to hand controls back to the driver. Today's systems on the market register at Level 2 partial automation and include Tesla's Autopilot, Cadillac's Super Cruise and others. There are no fully self-driving cars on sale today.

Despite Audi's setbacks, there are still a host of automakers aiming to introduce Level 3 partial autonomy. Both Mercedes-Benz and BMW previously said this sort of partially automated technology will show up on cars coming in the next few years.

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