Cars That Are Almost Self-Driving

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What Are the Levels of Vehicle Autonomy?

To make things as simple as possible, let’s explain the five levels of vehicle autonomy before we look at the cars and SUVs on this list. The levels of autonomy are determined by SAE International, a professional group of worldwide engineers devoted to establishing standardized values for the transportation field. To better understand self-driving cars, it’s important to understand each level of autonomy.

Level 0 means the car is always under human control. Cars in this category can have active safety features, like automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning, but these features only offer visual or audible alerts, and they never actively control the car.

Level 1 vehicles might include adaptive cruise control or lane keep assist. These safety features are capable of providing a small degree of steering, acceleration, or braking input. However, their primary focus is accident avoidance. 

Level 2 autonomy entails several active safety features working in unison to take some degree of driving duty away from the driver. Onboard cameras and radar sensors could keep the car driving at a steady speed in its intended lane of travel, for example, and clear of surrounding vehicles. At this level you’ll find a number of today’s self-driving systems, such as Cadillac Super Cruise and Tesla’s AutoPilot. One key thing to remember: A Level 2 vehicle requires the driver to remain focused on the road. This can be done via cameras that monitor the driver’s eyes or sensors that can tell if the driver lets go of the steering wheel.

At Level 3, a vehicle takes over all driving controls in select conditions and allows the driver to focus elsewhere. These conditions might be specific types of highway, or geofenced locations. The vehicle may not be able to drive itself in poor weather.

At Level 4, the self-driving car is able to adapt to more road and weather conditions. The limitations of Level 3 are lessened, and the vehicle theoretically requires almost no driver input.

Finally, at Level 5, the car drives all the time, no matter the type of road or weather outside. This robo-car is the end game for self-driving technology, though it remains years into the future.

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