The semi autonomous systems

Semi-autonomous safety and convenience features have emerged as a new battleground in the world of high-end luxury cars. BMW, Audi and Mercedes have all used their flagships to debut new suites of driver assistance technology aimed at making the commute safer and easier. So, which has the most sophisticated semi-autonomous setup: the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class? And how do they stack up against the Tesla Model S?

Audi launched the new A8 at a lavish event in Barcelona yesterday, revealing a car that is absolutely loaded with clever tech, from road-reading suspension to a fully digitized cockpit. But the headline feature is the incredibly sophisticated Audi AI semi-autonomous driver assist.

The company is billing Audi AI as the first autonomous driving system to reach Level 3 capability, also known as Conditional Automation. That essentially means when the system is active, drivers (and we use that word advisedly) can flip through a magazine or compose an email, but they still need to be ready to retake control in case the car is flummoxed by particularly tricky road conditions.

At the moment, the Level 3 AI Traffic Jam Pilot operates in stop/start traffic up to 60 km/h (37 mph). It can only be turned on when the car is on freeways with a barrier separating traffic heading in the other direction, and handles the throttle, braking and steering. The problem with all of this? Unless you’re in Germany, it probably isn’t legal.

Rules vary from state-to-state in America, while Australia has no legislative framework for such a system. It’s the same story in China. As a result, the technology simply won’t be on offer in those places. What’s more, it can’t be retrofitted – which means early adopters in some places won’t be able to make use of its most impressive feature.