An Introduction To The Five Levels of Autonomous Driving

May 21st, 2021 by

Everyone is talking about the limits of autonomous driving, what many expect will be the new way of the future. Researchers forecast that by 2025 approximately eight million autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles will be on the road. Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves, before autonomous vehicles can merge onto roadways, they will have to progress through 5 levels of driver assistance technology advancements. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines the 6 levels of driving automation ranging from 0 (fully manual) to level 5 (fully autonomous). The U.S. Department of Transportation has adopted these levels into their program now too. What exactly are the differences between the levels? Let’s break them down and truly understand what they are capable of.

The levels of autonomous driving start with level 0 which has no driving automation, most vehicles on the road are level 0. The person inside the vehicle provides the “driving task”, depending on what vehicle some systems may be in place to help the driver with the minimum assistance. Emergency braking would be the perfect example of how the driver is still in full control. Moving forward, Level 1 comes with the lowest level of automation, the vehicle will feature a single automated system for driver assistance like cruise control. Adaptive cruise control also qualifies as level one even though the vehicle can be kept a safe distance behind the next car with the driver monitoring steering and braking.

Now, moving into Level 2 autonomous driving that includes partial driving automation, meaning an advanced driver assistance system or ADAS is included. The main focus is how much the driver needs to monitor the system, Level 2 also includes driving features such as parking and negotiating stop-and-go traffic. A step further from Level 2 to Level 3 begins to really change the level of autonomous driving. While Level 2 is more about assistance systems, Level 3 allows the car to drive autonomously under certain conditions. Level 3 enters the world of highly automated driving, allowing drivers to completely remove their hands off the wheel. Level 3 mostly relates to highway autonomous driving, once the vehicle is ready to exit, it will relinquish control to the driver.

While most new vehicles offer Level 3 conditional driving automation, the next step after is fully automated Level 4 vehicles. Level 4 allows the vehicle to control complete journeys on highways as well as in city traffic. The main difference between Level 3 and Level 4 automation is that Level 4 can intervene and take control if things go wrong or in the event of a system failure. So technically, these vehicles don’t necessarily require a human driver, but regardless a driver has the option to manually override. Level 4 can operate in self-driving mode but can only operate within a limited area due to legislation. NAVYA, a French company, has already begun to build and sell Level 4 shuttles and cabs in the U.S. that are fully electric and reach up to 55 mph. 

Finally arriving at Level 5 Full Driving Automation, the actual autonomous driving that doesn’t require driving ability nor a driving license to use the vehicle. In Level 5 the driver becomes a pure passenger, it can also be the fact that fully autonomous vehicles don’t have a steering wheel nor pedals that are capable of driving independently. Level 5 was not intended for passengers to interfere, Level 5 is free from geofencing, meaning it is free to go anywhere and do anything an experienced driver can do. Level 5 basically works through a pick-up location and the destination. The benefits from Level 5 create a whole new world of opportunity, enormous advantages for people without a license, senior citizens, and people with disabilities that might hold them back from driving can finally feel free.  

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