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Audi and Nvidia Promise Level 4 Autonomous Car by 2020

Audi's involvement in autonomous technology has been no secret, but up until now, the only clear deadline we had was the release of a Level 3 self-driving car by the end of this year.
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Audi went one step further and called this vehicle "the first of its kind," even though Tesla is claiming Level 3 autonomous driving for its Autopilot, which has been on the market for over one year. Regardless whether it will be first or not, having a mainstream manufacturer - be it a premium one - move closer to a fully self-driving machine bodes well for the industry's advancement in this field.

During a keynote address at CES, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang announced that his company and Audi are on track for a fully self-driven car, and it won't take them more than three years to bring it to market. “We’re talking highly automated cars, operating in numerous conditions, in 2020,” he said, quoted by IEEE Spectrum.

Just in case these "Levels" don't mean anything to you, what you should know is that a Level 3 vehicle is able of driving itself on most occasions, but it still requires the permanent attention of a human driver who must be ready to jump in at any time. Level 4, on the other hand, means a car that can drive itself on any type of road without supervision, with the sole difference from a Level 5 vehicle being that it can still be driven manually, meaning it keeps the pedals and steering wheel.

Tesla claims that the new Autopilot 2.0 hardware that it's been installing on all of its vehicles since October last year is capable of Level 4 autonomy, but since the regulations for public use are not in place yet, it can't release all of its features.

Regardless, even if the car's AI won't be allowed to take full control, that doesn't mean it can't keep an eye out on the driver's behalf and warn them of any dangers. That's what the system Nvidia and Audi are working on plans to do. “We believe the AI is either driving you or looking out for you," Huang said. "When it is not driving you it is still completely engaged.” That means we could see some of the more advanced features even ahead of the promised Level 4 car arriving in 2020.

Meanwhile, Nvidia's powerful processing unit dedicated to the automotive world will prove useful in Level 3 cars as well. It promises to sort out the biggest caveat of this type of autonomous driving, which is the driver's attention.

Since the human sitting behind the wheel is required to be able to take control at any given moment, it's paramount that they remain focused on the road at all times. Nvidia's facial recognition software will scan the driver and decide whether they are paying attention or not, alerting them when needed.

Nvidia is becoming an important player in the self-driving world, with Tesla also acquiring its services after the nasty breakup with Mobileye last year. Thanks to its involvement in the gaming industry, it has perfected the art of building chipsets that are powerful, have reduced dimensions and low energy consumption. In other words, precisely what the AI-obsessed automotive world needed.


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