Envision a world where all cars, buses, and trains operate themselves. No humans, no bus drivers, no conductors, just smart technology. Imagine getting in your car for your morning commute, drinking a cup of coffee, reading the news, while your car drives itself to work. What may seem like a distant, futuristic fantasy is becoming a reality. The technology needed for autonomous driving is improving rapidly, and we are starting to see vehicles with more and more elements of autonomy.
Levels of Autonomy
The Society of Automotive Engineers International has created an internationally recognized standard that identifies six different levels of driving automation from Level 0 to Level 5.
- Level 0 – No assistance functions, no automation, the driver is control of all aspects of driving
- Level 1 – Stand-alone functions such as cruise control or parking assistance, driving is still mostly in control
- Level 2 – Partial automation with a combination of functions, such as keeping in-lane and watching distance, speed, traffic movements
- Level 3 – Conditional automation where the system controls the vehicle entirely under certain circumstances with some fail-safe mechanisms, but ultimately has the driver to fall back on and intervene at short notice.
- Level 4 – High automation where the system controls the vehicle entirely under most circumstances, with deeply integrated fail-safe mechanisms and the driver has ample forewarning if it needs to transfer control.
- Level 5 – Full automation of the entire dynamic driving task (DDT) where the vehicle can deal with every circumstance and has multiple, compute-driven fail-safes in place. This is usually considered at the point where the steering wheel and pedals are removed and there is no driver intervention necessary.
Where are we now?
The ultimate goal is to reach Level 5, a world of full automation. While we aren’t there yet, we are making great headway. Think about the car you drive. Do you have cruise control? Parking assistance? If so, your car operates with Level 1 capabilities. If your car is newer, maybe it has automatic braking or lane keeping functions. Then, it would be Level 2. Many automotive consumer brands are currently competing to advance beyond these stages and develop Level 3 or 4 technologies. Tesla Auto Pilot and Daimler AG (Mercedes Benz) Drive Pilot are already selling cars with Level 3 capabilities, while Japanese automakers expect that around 2020, we will start to see cars operating at Level 3+. However, these are still considered premium additions to driver-centric vehicles rather than vehicles made exclusively for automated action. At Level 5, we will likely see cars with no gas pedals nor steering wheels, which are no longer driver-centric.
On private roads, there are already fully autonomous vehicles in operation, albeit in low numbers. We already have the processing and sensor requirements to achieve autonomy in a controlled environment, one without unpredictable actions of pedestrians, other vehicles and daily life at large. The task at hand now is to train cars to be autonomous in the real world, on public roads, full of unpredictability. It is not an easy task, but it is also not an impossible one.
Stay tuned for our next piece about the safety of autonomous vehicles and other reasons how autonomous transportation will benefit society.
Written by Bria Rosenberg, Intern at VIA Technologies, Inc.