Audi A8
New Audi A8 luxury saloon car can drive itself while you watch televisionAudi

Audi has revealed the world's first production car capable of driving itself while the owner takes their eyes off the road to watch television.

Launched at Audi Summit in Barcelona, the new luxury saloon car is the first production vehicle to offer Level 3 autonomous driving, where in certain circumstances the driver can completely disengage from the task of driving, letting the car take full control.

For the new 2018 A8 this is possible at speeds of up to 60km/h (37mph) on roads which have a physical divider between each direction of traffic, like motorways and dual carriageways. Once the driver presses an AI (artificial intelligence) button on the centre console, the car can start, accelerate, steer, brake and stop itself with no human input whatsoever.

Audi says the driver can then "take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV."

The German car manufacturer adds: "As soon as the system reaches its limits, it calls on the driver to take back control of the task of driving."

This transition between car and driver is the aspect of autonomous driving currently most feared by car makers. Some are seeking ways to skip Level 3 entirely, jumping from Level 2, where a hand is required on the wheel at all times, to Level 4, where the car does not need to give back control in any situation.

Speaking about the grey area of Level 3 autonomy, Ford's head of self-driving vehicles Jim McBride told Techrepublic in 2016: "The biggest demarcation is between Level 3 and 4. We're not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene - that's not a fair proposition."

Audi A8 rear seat luxury
Rear-seat passenger technology includes a tablet to control climate and media, two TV screens and massage seatsAudi

As well as the radar sensors, front camera and ultrasonic sensors found on other cars with autonomous features, Audi claims it is the first car manufacturer to also use a laser scanner to read the road and traffic ahead.

Called traffic jam pilot, the self-driving system will not be available when the car goes on sale, but will instead be rolled out to delivered vehicles once it has been developed further - and when motoring laws change to allow drivers to watch TV from behind the wheel, which could take some time.

Aside from driving itself in traffic, the new A8, which starts at €90,600 (£80,000) will, once the software updates arrive, be capable of remotely parking itself in a space or garage without a driver inside. Drivers can start the parking maneuver from their smartphone, while stood outside if they wish, and the car will do the rest under supervision.

Rear-seat passengers can control the car's climate, media and other settings via a tablet computer docked in the centre console, similar to that installed in the BMW 7-Series. The rear seats recline, offer massages, and there are two TV screens; the front passenger seat can be folded forward to act as a footrest.

A final piece of autonomous technology is how the A8's suspension quickly rises if it predicts a crash, helping to protect the occupants.