The 6 Levels of Vehicle Autonomy Explained

Self-driving cars may be becoming more and more real but little do we know we are only halfway toward full autonomy. Meaning there’s a scale that determines how far you can sit back while the wheel drives itself.

Level 0 – No Driving Automation
This level is fully manual and most prevalent in the current public traffic scene around the world. In this mode, the driver is completely in control of the vehicle for real-time operations including steering, accelerator, and brakes. They however do include features that otherwise may not work without being manually operated by the driver themselves such as standard cruise control. Any automated systems installed in the vehicle at this stage are purely used at the discretion of the human driver and are there to assist the primary driver.

Level 1 – Driving Assistance
Most cars on the roads nowadays are ranked Level 1 according to SAE. Level 1 autonomous cars have at least one automated driving system like adaptive cruise control or parking sensors to assist the still-in-control human driver. These systems give autonomy to the vehicle to an extent such that it can adjust the speed within s specific range, and maintain adequate stopping distances. However, the driver is still needed to be attentive to anomalous situations where brake pressure increase is required or when the sensors beep to inform the driver that the parking distance is too mall.

Level 2 – Partial Driving Automation
This is the last stage where drivers dominate the driving seat for the upcoming ones are inclined more towards and advanced driver assistance systems are a key player in this stage. Under normal circumstances, the vehicle is able to accelerate and brake independently under the supervision of the driver. These vehicles have at least two automated driving systems installed for driver assistance. Conclusively, these vehicles are self-driving under very narrow and restricted conditions and the driver is in control for the majority of the driving time.

Level 3 – Conditional Driving Automation
It is the first stage in this hierarchy where machines start to get more autonomy in a wider set of scenarios. Here, the vehicle is fully capable of driving itself with an automated driving system in place to drive them through long motorways and make decisions using LiDAR sensors. The driver may not have both hands on the wheel, but the system is efficient enough to continue moving until it reaches a point where It deduces that a situation requires human intervention. Some of such vehicles are also proficient in manoeuvring through traffic jams such that they identify a traffic jam and shift their mode of operations to move inch by inch meanwhile keeping drivers fully informed of the status of their confidence in taking the lead. The vehicle is programmed to monitor environmental conditions in certain conditions, while at all other times the driver must be on standby to intervene.

Level 4 – High Driving Automation
The second last level of automation allows cars to operate in a self-driving mode even under complex circumstances. This stage is still not the ‘fully’ autonomous stage because the driver can still override the self-driving operations and take over control. Unforeseen conditions such as driving on back roads or blizzards would still require human oversight here. Despite their potential to revolutionize the transportation industry, Level 4 vehicles have been kept limited to restricted areas and speeds due to limitations of infrastructure and legislation.

Level 5 – Full Driving Automation
Enter: Tomorrowland. Imagine waving goodbye to your car as it pulls away after dropping you off at work in a blizzard. This level has no need for a driver such that these are fully autonomous cars capable of driving themselves in all road conditions. An earlier reference to waving goodbye meant to indicate that there is such a level where cars need absolutely no human intervention at all. These vehicles do not have traditional parts such as a steering wheel, brake and acceleration pedals, or gear shift that cater to human operation.

It is exciting to know we have so much more to see when it comes to autonomy in the way travel, but how soon will we get to enjoy such a luxury? We can’t say for sure, but what we do know is that since the majority is still dwelling in the lower levels of the automation scale, it seems full autonomy will have to wait another decade before our garages come to life with this 21st-century must-have. Let’s see how accurate our estimate is, only time can tell. What do you think?