The self-driving car, a sea serpent of the automobile industry, has not yet become a reality. Or at least in its most automated version, which enables it to do without a driver. Nevertheless, several levels do exist, and these are a reality. The Science et Vie magazine in 1959 envisioned the car of 1980, which would either be flying (i.e., without wheels) or self-driving if it had wheels.
After more than 60 years, the flying car is not yet a reality. But the autonomous car is a reality… or almost, since even if it has not seen the light of day in its highest form, in which the driver could relax and let the car go to its destination without any human intervention, it comes in several different levels.
Therefore, a hierarchy is in place to segment cars into five distinct categories, which are defined in particular by the SAE standard, the leading standard in the autonomous car segment. These levels are used by both car manufacturers and the press to refer to the level of autonomy of a car.
Stay tuned to this article of Gazettely in case you want to know all of these autonomous levels of self driving cars.
Level 0 – No autonomous system
It is the lowest level in the hierarchy. There is not even a question of autonomy here, as only a few basic driving aids allow a car to reach this level, like automatic warnings or blind spot detectors. This means equipment that improves the EuroNCAP rating, but under no circumstances can take control of the driving experience. This level is not considered by SAE International and has no relevance to autonomous driving.
Level 1 – Driver assistance
In this level, the driver is always the sole master on board and must continuously supervise the driving aids, which will disable themselves if he/she does not demonstrate signs of attention. The available assistance systems, which can act autonomously, only offer one level of driving assistance.
However, the margin left to the system is thin: they can only deal with steering or acceleration and braking. On top of the other systems mentioned above, a vehicle must be fitted with adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist in order to reach Level 1 in semi-autonomous driving. That means the vast majority of cars available on the market.
Level 2 – Partial driving autonomy
In order to reach level 2 of semi-autonomous driving, there is only a slight evolution from the previous grade. In this case, a car has to be able to manage both the steering and the longitudinal control (acceleration and braking). This is a small difference that gives the car a little more control.
With his or her hands on the wheel, the driver can leave the steering to the car with a lane tracking system and the acceleration/braking to the adaptive cruise control. This level also features the various traffic jam assistance systems.
Level 3 – Automated driving under certain conditions
This is the first step on the road to a truly self driving car. The authorities define it as a level where the driver does not necessarily have to drive to keep the assistance systems active, but just takes over when they feel it is necessary. A significant difference then, because the car is well equipped to take into account the external environment.
Among other things, this is what Tesla’s AutoPilot system offers, which is misleading in its name since it is not fully autonomous. However, it is limited by the regulatory framework, where the autonomous driving level of level 3 is not allowed.
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Nevertheless, this level will be authorized in some European countries from September 2022: following the UN decision, for example France will allow level 3 cars to drive autonomously (without hands on the wheel, but with a driver behind it) in some areas. The decision is very important, since the Highway Code has been modified as a result in France.
If an accident occurs, the driver can be cleared of any responsibility if the system is used correctly. This is where the difference lies between a semi-autonomous (or over-assisted) car and the real autonomous car, which takes control and warns the driver according to the different situations encountered.
Level 4 – High level of driving automation
It is from here that the true definition of a self-driving car begins to make sense. In this case, the system will not require the driver’s intervention. The car must be able to continue on its way or make the right decisions to avoid danger, regardless of danger or other complex situations.
However, the framework is always the same, and these Level 4 autonomous cars can only operate in a certain area or on a predefined route. This is particularly the case for some cabs or autonomous shuttles. Like the latter, level 4 vehicles can do without pedals and steering controls.
Level 5 – Fully automated driving
The real autonomous car is this one: armed with sensors and radars, it can drive in complete autonomy, everywhere, all the time and under any conditions. It is therefore free of all limits.
However, even though many automakers and equipment manufacturers are trying to reach this ultimate level, the autonomous car is still a far-off dream: there are many variable parameters that can hamper autonomous driving in a given environment. The road is still long before this fully autonomous car is allowed to run free. In the same way as the flying car, it only exists in fiction for the moment.
Can we trust self driving cars?
Nevertheless, many questions arise in case of danger with few possible outcomes, especially those that would involve the safety of a pedestrian and that of the driver: who should be spared? At present, no one knows the answer, because it is such a cruel dilemma.