Last week I explored the SAE levels of automation, and how the document has been picked up by the popular press and often misinterpreted. Various auto manufacturers make proclamations that they are aiming for level X by the year 20-something. These various levels of automation are entirely artificial constructs but are being held up as beacons that need to be achieved.
A case in point is Audi who has declared that the 2018 A8 is world’s first level 3 self-driving vehicle with their Traffic Jam Pilot (TJP). It is now on all their top end models.
The SAE, in its levels of automation document, define a concept of the Operational Design Domain or ODD. These are the conditions for which the vehicle can operate in that level of autonomy; e.g. freeways, arterials, rural driving or even valet. But in this case Audi has the ODD has defined to be so specific as to be nearly useless: Go to 2 min 50 sec for a description of the ODD and then 4 min 50 sec for a fallback request.
The ODD is:
So, yes, it is a level 3 for its ODD. You get an SAE tick. But really? In the YouTube comments of the video above someone said that their vacuum cleaner is smarter than the car.
Understanding the complete and official ODD for Audi’s TJP is like getting the CIA internal phone directory. Does it work in rain or snow? Does it work on hills or corners? Does it work at night or if there are shadows across the road? It’s not in the manual. In the Australian Q8’s specification guide it is simply defined as
Needless to say, “system limits” are not defined.
In Australia, don’t think that you will be watching TV while driving as the vehicle’s technical specifications stipulate in a footer (on the second last page, in a small font) that
The US version of the Audi has gone so far as to disable this feature because of their vague regulatory framework and have removed the supporting hardware from the car so it can’t even be software enabled in the future.
We can’t dump on Audi too much; the safety features in these cars are amazing and they should be applauded.
Next week, yet another acronym, the all important OEDR (Object and Event Detection and Response) and without it your car with autonomous aspirations will have driven itself down a technological cul-de-sac…