Audi updated its self-driving car initiative this week, touting the performance of a "piloted driving" Audi RS 7 concept that recently turned in an impressive performance at the Sonoma Raceway in California.
The RS 7 prototype required only 2:01.01 minutes to "set its best lap time at the 2.5-mile course," Audi of America said in a statement.
As part of the update, Audi said the Audi Traffic Jam Pilot technology will appear first in the next-generation Audi A8.
Audi spokesman Brad Stertz told Edmunds the automaker hasn't "locked in a model year yet, but it is about three years out" from arriving at Audi dealerships.
Stertz said the Traffic Jam Pilot system will be optional and that it's too early to discuss pricing.
The system will take over all functions from the driver, including steering, during congested highway traffic at speeds up to 37 mph.
"The drivers can resume control just as they would deactivate cruise control," Stertz noted.
Once the traffic jam disperses or the end of the highway has been reached, the driver is prompted to take back control. If the driver fails to respond, the system brings the car to a standstill.
Audi noted that the global auto industry is moving rapidly toward an era "when drivers won't be required for driving."
"Within several years, car owners are expected to have the option to turn over control of their vehicle to an internal pilot, thanks to advances across digital technologies that are being perfected and harnessed continually by Audi and other automakers, as well as by tech companies including Google," Audi said.
It added: "The biggest hindrance to this scenario will not stem from any limitations in autonomous-driving technologies but rather from legal, political, infrastructure, regulatory and liability factors that all need to be addressed as the developed world makes the most significant switch in its automotive paradigm in over a century."
At the Tesla Motors shareholders meeting in June, CEO Elon Musk said he's been personally testing Tesla's "autopilot" technology, which is set for a public beta-testing program this summer on the Tesla Model S.
The system bundles an auto-steering feature, which works in conjunction with radar, camera, ultrasonic sensors and special software. The Autopilot hardware package is standard on new versions of the Model S.
The Model S will be able to steer to stay within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by reading road signs and using active, traffic-aware cruise control.
Google recently announced that is has expanded testing of its self-driving cars beyond California and is now evaluating the cars on public roads in Austin, Texas.
The University of Michigan will open its "cityscape" for autonomous-car and connected-car testing next week.
Called M City, the 32-acre facility will be located on the university's North Campus and will include a network of roads with intersections, roundabouts, traffic signs and signals, and sidewalks. Simulated buildings, parked cars, pedestrians and other obstacles will challenge the capabilities of various automated vehicle systems.
Edmunds says: The building blocks of autonomous driving are already in place on current vehicles, courtesy of such features as automatic emergency braking and forward-collision warning. But a driverless world appears to be looming large.