How Close Are We to a Self-Driving Car?

Ford Fusion with autonomous technology
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What Defines a Self-Driving Car?

In order to better understand autonomous vehicles, we’ve included the different levels of self-driving below, as defined by SEA International and adopted by the NHTSA. Each level considers the amount of automation, the road types and conditions in which the technology can be safely activated, and what the process is if the system stops working (specifically, whether or not the driver or the Automated Driving System (ADS) maintains control of the vehicle).

 

  • Level 0: No Driving Automation.

  • Level 1: Driver Assistance. Adaptive cruise control OR lane centering (driver supervises); limited roads or modes; if automation stops working, the driver resumes performing all of the dynamic driving task.

  • Level 2: Partial Driving Automation. Adaptive cruise control AND lane centering (driver supervises); limited roads or modes; if automation stops working, the driver resumes performing all of the dynamic driving task.

  • Level 3: Automated Driving (Conditional). Automated driving in dense freeway traffic (low speeds); limited area, roads, and/or modes; if automation stops working, the driver takes over after a warning.

  • Level 4: Automated Driving (High). Automated driving within a city center (geo-fenced location); limited area, roads, and/or modes; if automation stops working, the ADS brings the vehicle to a safe stop.

  • Level 5: Automated Driving (Full). Automated driving everywhere on-road; if automation stops working, the ADS brings the vehicle to a safe stop.

Most companies that are working toward full self-driving vehicles are planning to achieve at least Level 4 automation. While some automakers are working progressively through the levels to eventually achieve fully autonomous driving, others intend to jump immediately to Level 4.

In a vehicle with Level 4 automation, the driver could potentially take all attention off the road or even sleep in the car, since the ADS would slow the car and bring it to a safe stop if there’s an issue (though, with all currently available systems, you should always pay attention when you’re in a car). Level 5 vehicles do not need pedals or steering wheels.

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