What do the automation levels mean for self-driving cars?

Engineer Live News Desk

Self-driving cars, or fully-autonomous vehicles, are set to be the next step in the automotive industry, with Britain’s Department of Transport revealing last year that it wants to see fully-autonomous cars on the UK's roads by 2021. Driverless technology is already out on our roads now and its advancements could soon help to reduce and prevent accidents, according to this research.

Using the perfect combination of cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence, vehicles will eventually be able to interact with street furniture, people and other cars to safely get from A to B without needing a driver.

Self-driving cars are graduating through several levels of automation, each of which has a different level of technological input ranging from zero (no autonomous features) to full-autonomous (not needing a driver).

Level 1: Driver assistance

This level sees the car equipped with key functions, which make the driving process easier and safer. The driver and the vehicle share control and tools include:

●    Park assist – your car will steer you into parking spaces;
●    Adaptive cruise control – unlike traditional cruise control, adaptive cruise control will set a maximum speed and then automatically reduce the speed when it senses traffic in front of the vehicle;
●    Adaptive headlights – this is a safety feature which sees the lights turn their beams around a bend in the road to give a driver a better view of what’s coming 
●    Automatic emergency braking – this does exactly what it says and can detect obstacles, warn the driver or automatically brake ;
●    Lane-keep assist – also known as lane departure warning, this will warn the driver if the vehicle moves out of its lane without the driver using indicators;
●    Lane centring – this system will help keep the car in the centre of the lane.

Level 2: Partial automation 

Partial automation will assist with accelerating, steering and braking simultaneously. With this level the driver will need to monitor the journey and, if needed, be ready to take back control (drivers should keep their hands on the wheel just in case).

Level 3: Conditional automation

This level will enable drivers to take their eyes off the road. They aren’t expected to be aware of what’s going on all of the time (unlike Level 2 and 1) – the vehicle will make its own decisions itself, such as reducing speed. However, they will still be required to take control of the vehicle, in some incidences the car may tell the driver when they need to intervene. 

The 2018 Audi A8 Luxury Sedan for example features a Traffic Jam Pilot which offers level 3 automation in traffic under 37mph/60kmh.

Level 4: High automation 

A little more advanced than level 3, high automation even lets drivers leave their seat while the vehicle is in motion. This type of technology is usually geofenced in a certain place or travelling on a fixed route. 

Level 5: Fully autonomous 

Full automation is the final stage, where the car can completely take over. It will use a range of advanced sensors, cameras and blind-spotting tools together with smart cloud computing software to fully understand traffic data, weather and surface conditions.

We’ve already reached levels two and three on the automation journey - while pioneers push on further into levels four and five as the autonomous revolution picks up pace.


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