Self-driving autonomous cars were once mere fantasies dreamed up for future worlds that only existed in science fiction novels and movies like Total Recall and Demolition Man. Now, these robotic, high-tech machines are on the rise. Though we are still a little ways off from full automation, companies like Google and Tesla have been working for years to develop the technology necessary to make autonomous cars a reality.
Many have questioned whether the self-driving car would ever appear, but we have already seen vehicles on the market with some level of automation. So it’s only a matter of time before vehicles capable of full automation become available. It’s easy for consumers to forget that, even with our current advanced technological capabilities, there are still high safety standards that must be met before these cars can hit the market.
Rest assured, car manufacturers and engineers are hard at work trying to make self-driving cars possible. These machines must undergo rigorous testing, design changes, and adjustments before they are road-ready, but we are likely to see fully self-driving cars become a reality within the next few years.
Vehicle automation is already having an impact on the automotive industry. There are varying levels of automation, many of which are already available today with current vehicles on the market. Again, full automation has yet to be realized, but we do have cars with partial automation and assistive technologies already having a positive impact.
As these vehicles become increasingly automated, it will not only change the automotive industry, but it will change society and our future as a whole. Autonomous cars will improve accessibility for people with limitations, reduce accidents and traffic congestion, cut costs, improve the economy, reduce carbon emissions, and make driving more proficient and convenient overall.
To help you get a better understanding of what technologies are already available and where car automation is headed, let’s break down the current levels of automation:
Vehicles designated as level 0 have no automated driving capabilities. However, this is considered a level worth mentioning because cars in this category can still have systems that temporarily intervene when necessary. For example, drivers have complete control of vehicles at this level, but the car may come equipped with stability control, collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.
At this level, vehicles come equipped with an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) capable of assisting with steering or braking/accelerating. Only one of these options is available, however, and the driver is still responsible for driving and remaining in control most of the time. Lane-centering assistance or adaptive cruise control would be examples of features available at this level.
Vehicles in level 2 typically have multiple advanced driver assistance systems that work together. Level two ADAS can take over steering, acceleration, and braking. However, the driver is again the one driving when these assistive technologies temporarily take over. They must remain alert and ready to take back over at any time. Additional automated safety features that may be available in level 2 include:
At level 3, the driver is not driving when automated features are engaged but must be ready to take over and drive when the system requests. Features at this level are not fully automated and can only operate under limited conditions. Essentially, ADAS at this level uses artificial intelligence (AI) to make decisions based on varying situations around the vehicle, but the driver must remain alert.
Vehicles equipped with level three technology have not yet been released, but they have been designed and are awaiting approval. Audi attempted to release their 2019 A8 sedan with level 3 traffic jam assistance, but it never received approval. And Mercedes is currently awaiting approval for their redesigned 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the 2022 EQS electric vehicle with their Drive Pilot technology.
Level 4 vehicles require no human interaction. You will not be responsible for taking over the driving at any point in a car at this level. However, vehicles at this level are still limited to driving under certain conditions. Examples of vehicles currently in the works at this level are driverless transportation services. These vehicles are programmed only to take you from Point A to Point B and will be restricted by specific geographic boundaries.
The final level, of course, is complete automation. Vehicles categorized as level 5 are fully autonomous and have no limitations. This means the car can drive itself anywhere at any time, without boundaries or weather restrictions. In a level 5 vehicle, you will simply need to set your destination, but beyond that, you can do whatever you’d like while the car is driving.
As we already have vehicles designed and awaiting approval at level 3, it won’t take much longer for level 4 and level 5 vehicles to follow. Once we start to see the level 4 concept actualized, it won’t take long for people to see the benefits, which will likely result in a push for level 5 vehicles to be released shortly after.
However, there is no way of knowing the exact timeline until the time comes. While autonomous vehicles will improve safety, technology isn’t perfect. These vehicles won’t get approved without assurance that they have been thoroughly tested and are safe for people to ride in.