Level 4 systems will pilot the vehicle in nearly all conditions, requiring no driver attention when enabled.

Audi and Nvidia have extended their autonomous car partnership through the end of the decade, apparently with the goal of delivering a Level 4-capable vehicle in less than four years.

Press releases issued by both companies focus on Audi's upcoming A8, claimed to be the world's first Level 3 automated vehicle when it arrives next year. The SAE standard defines Level 3 as capable of operating autonomously within known, limited environments such as highways. Importantly, human drivers must remain prepared to take control at any time.

During a keynote address at CES, Audi of America head Scott Keough highlighted prototype demonstrations involving an autonomous Q7. The crossover takes advantage of 'neural network' technology and advanced machine learning on Nvidia's artifical intelligence platform to navigate complex environments.

The Q7 is said to understand its environment and drive safely around a demonstration track "without any computer programming," including areas with and without lane markings, on dirt and grass, and across a simulated construction zone with cones and detour indicators.

"We're talking highly automated cars, operating in numerous conditions, in 2020," Keough said at the press event, as quoted by IEEE Spectrum.

As the Spectrum report notes, the wording implies that Nvidia and Audi will be attempting to launch a Level 4 vehicle by the end of the decade. The SAE standard requires such a car to be capable of operating in most environments without a human driver, save for extreme weather or other rare conditions. Nvidia's computing platform is also used by Tesla Motors.

Several automakers claim to be working toward Level 4 production vehicles in the next few years. Tesla Motors is among the Level 5 autonomy, capable of operating in all conditions, is not expected to be ready for at least a few more years.