The Five Levels of Autonomy in Self-Driving Cars
The phrase “Self-Driving Car” can actually mean different things to different people. The Society of Automotive Engineers have been nice enough to organize these Self-Driving Car technologies into five levels, which are based on how much human intervention is required to operate the car. We’re going to roll our way through each of these levels here.
Think of these levels a bit like the certification labels on foods. Labels, like “Certified Organic” or “Non GMO”, help us understand what we’re getting when we are buying a product.
Similarly, these levels of autonomy helps us know how a particular make and model of a car will function on the road. This helps consumers, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and insurance companies know how to classify these new types of cars.
Level 0 – Your Average Car Today
Welcome to the first level of self-driving, Level 0. At this level you’re not going to be Snapchatting while driving. This level is not considered one of the levels of autonomy because these are the cars that you see around you today, which still require people to do all of the thinking for them. While they might have a backup sensor or camera to help us with certain tasks, they are NOT self-driving.
Level 1 – Somewhat Nifty Car
Glad we’re out of Level 0, how dry. We, AT LEAST, have a bit of magic happening inside Level 1 cars. These types can do simple things based on data they gather from sensors in their environment. You may find yourself in cars with features like lane assist, which automatically keeps your car between the lines as you drive as it self-corrects. While such things are clever and all, Level 1 cars have been around for more than 10 years in the luxury car market.
Level 2 – Parallel Parking? Watch This.
At Level 2, our cars are really starting to help us out. A Level 2 car is one that can control its own steering wheel and acceleration pedal. This means that in very specific circumstances, the car can actually drive itself! That said, the driver still needs to be 100% engaged and attentive to what the car is doing. A great example of this level is those fancy cars that can parallel park themselves. Amazing! The hardest parking technique is now made simple through technology.
Level 3 – Self-Drivingish
Level 3 cars are ones that can technically drive from point A to point B on known paths (meaning a GPS is controlling them). However, at this stage the driver still must keep their hands on the wheel and the system must be able to disengage from self-driving mode instantly so that the human can regain control immediately. The car company Tesla claims that their Tesla Model 3 has these capabilities down pat.
Level 4 – No More Human?
A Level 4 car is something special for sure. We are finally getting to the place where you are less of a driver and more of a passenger. Google’s Waymo is currently one of the cars that finds itself vying for the Level 4 classification. The only reason these cars can’t take over the world is that there are still certain, and difficult, “edge cases” that they can’t handle perfectly. In those circumstances, the car must pull over and park so that the human inside can put down their smartphone, take over the wheel, and drive the car until easier driving conditions reappear.
Level 5 – Get Your ZzZzs on Route 66
As you may expect, the last level is the coolest one. A Level 5 self-driving car is so confident in its driving abilities that human intervention is not even possible. What does that even mean? Well, that means that the car company has purposely removed the mechanisms that would enable a person to drive. Because it is just that good. Bye bye steering wheel, no more pedals, see ya windshield wiper knob. In a Level 5 car, you could literally go to sleep at point A and wake up at point B.