Autonomous Driving

Autonomous Driving Levels Review

With the ever increasing pace of innovation, competition and investment in autonomous driving (AD), we thought it might be good to start 2017 with a review of the different levels of AD. Until last year, there were two US standards for levels of AD, one by the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) & one by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Both were quite similar and in October 2016, the NHTSA adopted the SAE standard- you can download it here (note for some reason the SAE requires that your create an account with them in order to download the document, although there is no charge for so doing). In a nutshell, the standard outlines six levels of automation, briefly summarised as follows:

Level 0- No driving automation. The driver is fully in control at all times.

Level 1- Driver Assistance. The driver is assisted with certain tasks such as cruise control, ABS, park assist etc. pretty much where most modern cars are at today.

Level 2- Partial Driving Automation. Involves advanced driver assistance via features such as cruise control, automatic braking, lane control etc. This pretty much describes the features of Tesla’s currently available autopilot system.

Level 3- Conditional Driving Automation. The car can assume full control- however the driver may be required to resume control under certain circumstances such as adverse weather, sensor failure etc. Audi’s prototype A7 can apparently perform at this level, but no production models are currently available.

Level 4- High Driving Automation. At this level, assuming the car remains with a geographically pre-defined space e.g. college campus, city limits etc. the driver will not be expected to intervene. Ford, apparently, wants to jump directly to this level, skipping level 3.

Level 5- Full Driving Automation. The car’s geographic limits are removed, the car may not even have a steering wheel/pedals and driver is surplus to requirements.

This article in Wired Magazine provides a slightly more detailed overview of the different levels.