Companies are announcing their commitment to develop and the launch autonomous driving every single week.
Also, many of these announcements mainly highlighst the “level” of autonomy being developed. Autonomous driving is thus no longer a futuristic dream, but a reality.
This new development is probably scary to some, but its numerous benefits are undeniable. They include decreased congestion, more efficient parking, reduced emissions, reduction in the cost of new roads and infrastructure as well as lower transportation costs. The elderly and persons with disability will also be greatly advantaged because of the improvement in mobility.
According to Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and School of Engineering and one of the top experts,
“It is important to remember that the levels of autonomy describe the system, not the vehicle.”
He further explained that a level 5 automated driving system could be in a vehicle with or without a steering wheel.
There are five different levels of autonomous driving that you need to be aware of to comprehend where we currently stand with this rapidly growing technology. Here is an explanation of each level of autonomy.
Level zero-no automation
At level zero autonomy, the driver performs all operating tasks such as steering, braking, accelerating or slowing down and much more. These were mostly called “drive stick” in the 90s, due to the manual gear change.
Level one-driver assistance
Here, the vehicle can help out with some specific functions such as steering. However, the driver still handles all accelerating, braking, and monitoring of the surrounding area. On this note, you can think of a car that brakes a little bit for you when you get too close to another one on the highway.
Level two-partial automation
In this level, at least one driver assistance system of both steering and acceleration or deceleration using information about the surrounding driving environment is automated.
For instance, lane-centering and cruise control. The driver must be ready to always take control of the vehicle despite the fact that the car is still responsible for most safety-critical functions.
Level three-conditional automation
Starting at level 3, the vehicle now controls all monitoring of the environment and this through sensors such as LiDAR. It should be noted that the driver’s attention is still crucial at this level, but can disengage from “safety critical” roles such as braking. At speeds under 37 miles per hour, many current level 3 vehicles may not require human attention on the road.
Jim McBride, an autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said,
“The biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4.”
He further noted that he’s focused on getting Ford to Level 4 because Level 3 can often pose difficulties with the transfer of control from car to human.
Level four-high automation
At Levels 4 and 5, the vehicle has the capability of steering, braking, accelerating, monitoring the vehicle and roadway plus responding to events. It can also determine when to change lanes, turn, and use signals.
Here, the autonomous driving system would first notify the driver when the conditions are safe after which the driver can switch the vehicle into this mode.
Level five-complete automation
Lastly, we have the Level 5 of autonomy. This level of autonomous driving requires no human attention. There is entirely no need for pedals, brakes, or a steering wheel, as the vehicle system controls all crucial tasks, monitoring of the environment and course identification of unique driving conditions such as traffic jams.
Recently, NVIDIA announced an AI computer to help accomplish level 5 autonomy. Whereby, drivers merely plug in their destination and leave everything else to the vehicle.