Since autonomous vehicles hit the headlines, all car manufacturers are racing to implement new features in their cars, each stepping up a level. The possibilities are, indeed, thrilling, but what exactly does the term “autonomous car” mean? Is every autonomous vehicle “self-driving”?
To get the right understanding of driverless cars, it’s worth understanding that there are various autonomy levels available on the market. The infographic below explains the features of each of these levels. The levels were created in 2016 by SAE International, a society of automotive engineers, which has since become the industry standard when referring to autonomous vehicles. We’ve also seen these levels described with other robotic systems when discussing levels of autonomy.
Level 0 requires full control from the driver as the car has no support systems.
Level 1 involves basic assistance features. Typically, Level 1 cars are equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and cruise control. The driver is still in full control of the car, but gets some forms of help.
Level 2 corresponds to semi-autonomous driving. At this level, the vehicle can drive straight, stay in its lane and control the distance from vehicles in front all on its own. For example, in case of sudden traffic jams on the road, the vehicle can take control over steering and braking.
Level 3 defines the moment when the on-board systems can take over all driving functions, but only in certain situations. However, the driver must remain at the station all the time and be ready to take over.
Level 4 is a fully autonomous experience, but with someone behind the wheel. Most of the time, the vehicle can drive on its own and will handle even complicated situations on highways and in city traffic. During the journey, the driver can take care of other things and does not have to constantly observe the traffic around him. Importantly, at Level 4, vehicles will communicate and inform each other about maneuvers such as changing lanes.
Level 5 vehicles are truly self-driving cars. They operate autonomously in all conditions. There is completely no need for people in the car to take any action. It is believed that such cars won’t even be equipped with elements such as a steering wheel.