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Audi's head of self-driving cars leaves company

Alejandro Vukotich has left the automaker following the launch of the Audi A8, the world's first Level 3 production car.

Audi

Audi's Senior Vice President of Automated Driving has left the company, Roadshow has learned. Alejandro Vukotich, a 19-year veteran of Audi AG, gave notice on March 22. 

Vukotich had been the head of Audi's autonomous efforts since January 2017. The London Business School-educated engineer had transitioned from his role as Audi VP of Driver Assistant Systems, a position he held since 2009.

Alejandro Vukotich.

Audi

While he led Audi's research into advanced driver assist systems [ADAS], Vukotich is best known for his role in developing Audi's new A8, a model the company claims is the first production car to offer Level 3 automated driving capabilities. The A8 is the first series model to offer a lidar scanner, and Vukotich and his team worked to develop a comprehensive sensor and processor network involving no fewer than 23 pieces of hardware. 

"I am privileged to have had the opportunity to lead the best ADAS development team and together pushed the edges of technology towards more advanced levels of automated driving," Vukotich told Roadshow. 

Vukotich says he's particularly proud of zFas. The nerve center of the A8's partial self-driving abilities, Audi's novel zFAS "central driver assistance controller" fuses data from the aforementioned lidar, as well as camera, radar, multi-axis accelerometers and other sensors to create a digital 360-degree view of the surrounding world that allows for hands-free driving under certain conditions. 

The first such production system of its type, Vukotich and his team began conceptualizing of zFAS back in 2013 and 2014. Developed with suppliers Aptiv, Mobileye and Nvidia, the tablet-size computer includes built-in technological redundancies to ensure safe conditionally automated operation, even, Audi says, in the event of sensor failure.

Despite having these technological abilities, deployment of the A8's new automated-drive capabilities remains mired in red tape in many markets. With different countries -- and indeed, different states -- having varying, evolving and occasionally conflicting legal framework around self-driving cars, it's proving tricky for companies like Audi to get vehicles with automated driving capabilities beyond Level 2 approved in many markets, including the US.

Audi AG has confirmed to Roadshow that Vukotich is no longer with the company, and the executive's LinkedIn profile lists him as being on "garden leave," and "preparing for new challenges." According to sources, Vukotich is expected to remain in the auto industry, but he declined to divulge any future plans to Roadshow.

There is no word on who will succeed Vukotich at Audi AG.