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Watch Audi train its autonomous driving software using a toy car

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Audi, like pretty much every other automaker under the sun, continues to introduce more and more automated driving features for its cars. The next step, says the company, will be machine learning-powered driver assist features that work in constrained situations like driving in traffic and parking. They’ll be available in the new generation of Audi A8 saloons in 2017, but for the moment the German company is testing these features in a much more compact model — specifically, a model car 1/8th the size of the real thing.

You can see this pint-sized vehicle in action in the video above. Using deep reinforcement learning (a type of machine learning that’s essentially trial and error with "rewards" for the computer when it gets something right), Audi’s technicians have enabled it to autonomously search and park in a 3 x 3 meter arena. "An algorithm autonomously identifies the successful actions, thus continually refining the parking strategy," writes Audi in a blog post. "So in the end the system is able to solve even difficult problems autonomously."

Audi isn’t the only player in the auto industry to use machine learning to develop autonomous driving (startup Drive.ai is doing something similar) but it is one of the biggest, and technology it introduces will affect more drivers. Just like Audi’s miniature training car, pretty soon technology will make us all model drivers.