Six Levels of Autonomy in Autonomous Driving Cars

Six Levels of Autonomy in Autonomous Driving Cars

For nearly a century now, people are dreaming of self - driving cars and it is soon becoming a dream come true much to the excitement of the common man and moreover for the Engineers, who are deeply involved right from the conceptual stage and would be important in witnessing the commercial stage of Autonomous Cars. Even though there are obstacles like legislation, liability and ethics, major Automobile Companies have an Autonomous car either on road for testing or in works.

As the Automotive Companies are making the cars more brainy, people may struggle to understand the various innovations in this field. To standardize the innovations in the field of Autonomous driving cars, Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE International, which is based in the US and is a globally active professional association, have developed standards for the Engineering field  (Standard J3016 for Autonomous Cars). They have provided a classification with detailed definitions for six levels of driving automation, ranging from no driving automation (level 0) to full driving automation (level 5). This classification system is based on the amount of driver intervention and attentiveness required, rather than the vehicle capabilities, although these are very loosely related.

Table: Summary of Six Levels of Autonomy of Autonomous Driving Cars

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Image courtesy of SAE International/J3016.

Level 0 / No Automation –The driver performs all the operating functions like steering, braking, accelerating, slowing down, and so on. An example is our Parent’s wagon.

Level 1/ Driver Assistance – The vehicle can assist with some of the functions but majorly the driver is in control of steering, braking, accelerating, and monitoring of the surrounding environment. The driver cannot relax while driving Level 1 Autonomous car, however, it may help to lower the driving fatigue a little. The driver still has control of the car. An example is Adaptive Cruise Control Car.

Level 2/ Partial Assistance – Vehicle can assist with steering and accelerating functions. Driver disengages from some of the tasks and can relax a little more with the vehicle having adaptive cruise control and emergency braking system in place. However, the driver is still responsible to monitor the surrounding environment and take charge in-case of safety and critical functions. Examples are General Motors Super Cruise, Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot, Tesla Autopilot, Volvo Pilot Assist, Nissan ProPilot Assist.

Level 3/ Conditional Automation – The vehicle takes control of all including monitoring of the environment using sensors. The driver can disengage from critical and safety functions so that he can relax while on-route but still has to be attentive throughout the journey. The car can maneuver safely and the driver can relax on the freeway. In case of a change in ideal conditions, the driver has to take control. Many current 3 Level Vehicles require no Human attention on roads at lower speeds like 37 miles per hour. Example: Audi Traffic Jam Pilot (A8 Sedan).

Level 4/ High Automation – The vehicle is capable of steering, braking, accelerating and monitoring the environment as well as responding to events like change in lanes, turn, use of signals. In a Level 4 Automated car, a driver can safely relax and read a book, while the car takes on the responsibility of safe driving on the highway as well as on city roads. Example: Google/Waymo's test cars.

Level 5/ Full Automation – Level 5 autonomy requires no Human attention. As a result, there is no need for a steering wheel, brakes or pedals. The autonomous vehicle controls all critical tasks, monitoring of environment and identification of unique driving conditions like traffic jams. A dream though not yet fulfilled, but is soon to be realized. In a level 5 automated cars, the passengers could be able to safely work, eat to take a nap, while the car takes up entire driving functions.

Most of the Automobile Companies involved in Autonomous car development and manufacturing are at a stage where their autonomous cars are at level 2 or level 3 of autonomy. Most of these Stalwarts like Daimler, Volvo, Renault- Nissan, General Motors, BMW, Ford, Fiat- Chrysler, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda and Tesla plan to bring their fully automated cars on road around 2025. The wait is not long.  

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