Among high-end car companies, Audi has included more semi-autonomous features in its vehicles than any other company. This even caused one of Audi’s vehicles, the A8 Sedan, to be banned from being sold in the United States due to the car having too many autonomous features. Audi is now finally showing the public that it has plans of releasing a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021.
Audi, which is owned by parent company Volkswagen Group, plans on spending around $16 billion on its autonomous driving program called Autonomous Intelligent Group (AIG). Autonomous Intelligent Group is to Audi what Cruise is to General Motors or what Ergo is to Ford, and all three companies plan on investing heavily in their autonomous driving programs.
AIG was started in 2017 and is headquartered in Munich, Germany. The program now employs around 150 people and has 12 autonomous vehicles being tested in the roads of Germany. AID is expected to oversee the self-driving technology for all Volkswagen Group car brands, which include Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi.
“Our goal is to develop the full Level 4 stack,” said Alexandre Haag, AIG’s CTO. “The first application to be robo-taxi… and in the long term provide the whole group with a self-driving stack for ownership vehicles, trucks, buses, food deliveries… everything in the long term.” Level 4 for autonomous vehicles is defined as a vehicle that can start and finish a trip to a destination completely on its own.
Audi has some catching up to do, however. Waymo, which is Alphabet’s autonomous driving division, already released a robo-taxi service system with self-driving cars. Cruise is planning on doing the same in 2019, while Audi is on track to do so in 2021. Ergo, Ford’s autonomous driving division, plans on releasing its robo-taxi service at a similar time as Audi.
“Frankly, I think there’s some hype out there,” Haag said. “I think we’re still some way from real scaling… I have a high opinion of Waymo, but I think Cruise is hyping a little bit more. I think they have a good team and are on a good path, but I’m quite sure if they release something in 2019, it’s going to be very marginal, very small. Maybe a dedicated lane, fixed-route shuttle, a few kilometers or something like this. But being able to do all of San Francisco, or even just Market Street, I really don’t see this happening next year.”
Audi recently announced its partnership with Luminar, a start-up that manufactures LIDAR sensors and software that will boost Audi’s progress towards releasing its autonomous vehicles in 2021. LIDAR Sensors are a key component of autonomous driving; the sensors observe the landscape surrounding the vehicle by sending out millions of laser waves and detecting how long they take to return. Haag said he was impressed with the sensors that are being produced by Luminar, and that the sensors will make the autonomous vehicles’ perception much more efficient.