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2018 Audi A8 to feature stage three autonomous tech

Audi says its A8 limousine will allow a driver to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road at urban speeds.

A car capable of being driven hands-free will arrive in Australia in 2018 but the maker is yet to convince local authorities to rubber stamp the technology for our roads.

Audi says its A8 limousine will allow a driver to take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road at urban speeds, as the car navigates the traffic.

Audi board member Dietmar Voggenreiter told journalists at the Paris Motor Show the company’s “stage three” autonomous mode would be released in Europe next year.

Stage three would operate at speeds of up to 65km/h.

“You are allowed to take your hands off the wheel, the car is braking, accelerating, changing lanes, overtaking and you can really read a book or whatever you do,” he says.

If the car detected a potential hazard or emergency it would alert the driver, who would then have to take the wheel.

Voggenreiter says Audi would take legal responsibility for the safety of the driver.

But there are obvious hurdles to making that happen without running foul of the law and Audi needs to convince road safety authorities in every state about making hands-free motoring legal.

“It obviously depends on how the regulations will allow these steps,” he says.

Voggenreiter argues that an autonomous car would be safer than one manned by a human.

“More than 90 per cent of accidents are caused by human faults so the forecast is that the number of accidents would go down,” he says.

That in turn would lead to cheaper insurance premiums for motorists.

The leading car companies are racing to match and then overtake the automation already offered by US electric car maker Tesla, which offers an autopilot function, where the car can steer and change lanes on its own.

“The technology you buy in every Audi is more or less the same technology you have in the Tesla car but we don’t call it pilotic driving system, we call it assisted driving system because it doesn’t really allow you to drive hands free,” he says.

Tesla’s technology has come under fire in the US after drivers have taken the “autopilot” promise too literally and taken their hands off the wheel, in one case with fatal results.

Voggenreiter says Audi would take legal responsibility for the safety of the driver.

“If you take over responsibility and allow the driver to take off their hands then you are responsible. This is not big news, this is part of the legal and regulation side,” he says.

Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo are also close to debuting automated technology.

Mercedes-Benz chairman Dieter Zetsche says the company is ready to offer autonomous driving “as far as we can safely and legally go”.

BMW is looking to release its first automated vehicle in 2021 and board member Ian Robertson says the company is transforming from being an automotive company to a technology business.

“The DNA of BMW always was innovation and technology. It’s defined in different ways today as technology but it’s what we are,” he says.

“The fact that we now have thousands of software engineers, that’s part of that development,” he says.

Would you trust an autonomous Audi, BMW or Mercedes? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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