Are All Levels of Autonomous Vehicles Equal? Sorry, They're Not
Mon, April 19, 2021

Are All Levels of Autonomous Vehicles Equal? Sorry, They're Not

Driver assistance technologies in motor vehicles have started to save lives and prevent injuries, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the US federal government / Photo by: Denys Prykhodov via Shutterstock

 

Driver assistance technologies in motor vehicles have started to save lives and prevent injuries, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the US federal government. A number of new motor vehicles have technology that prevents drivers from drifting into lanes or making unsafe lane changes. There are even AV technologies that warn drivers of other vehicles behind them when they are backing up or even brake automatically if a vehicle in front of them stops or slows all of a sudden. 

These safety technologies employ hardware and software to enable vehicles to identify certain risks, warning the driver to act to avoid a crash. As AV technology evolves, it will continue to deliver even greater safety benefits to passengers and drivers. One day, we will get to see AVs operating by themselves without human involvement. 

However, there are a number of incidents and accidents that have occurred involving self-driving cars, leading us to question the general safety of AV technology, wrote Kathleen Walch of business news Forbes. Before we see ourselves relaxing in a self-driving vehicle, we must first understand where the automotive industry is currently standing and heading. 

The Six Levels of Autonomous Vehicles

The Society of Automotive Engineers categorizes AV technology capabilities into six levels. Level 0 means there are no autonomous features in the vehicle. Thus, you are responsible for all operating tasks such as steering, accelerating, driving, and the like. All the cars and trucks on the road today are at Level 0 autonomy. Level 1 autonomy refers to a vehicle that is only capable of performing one autonomous task at a time. These tasks include automative braking, lane-keeping, or adaptive cruise control. Vehicles at that level cannot do two or more of the aforementioned tasks combined. 

Like the previous level, you still need to be engaged behind the wheel and do almost all the work in driving the vehicle. Vehicles at Level 1 autonomy are mostly safety-oriented to deal with situations preemptively for the driver. Many newer vehicles are at Level 1 autonomy. On the other hand, Level 2 has greater autonomous capabilities by employing two or more advanced driver assistance systems simultaneously like steering and acceleration or automatic lane-keeping and breaking. 

You can operate the vehicle without paying much attention to it, but it is not fully autonomous. Hence, you still need to be prepared to take control of it at any time. Vehicles at this level are not really self-driving, which means they can only operate without human intervention “in certain instances and with appropriate control.” Level 2 autonomous capabilities include Volvo Pilot Assist, Tesla Autopilot, Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot, Cadillac Super Cruise. 

Vehicles at Level 3 or the so-called “conditional memory” level are capable of driving from one location to another without human involvement, albeit in certain situations. Hence, you are called to intervene when the system is not operating reliably. The only vehicle at this level is Tesla’s Audi A8, although the company has blurred the lines with recent software updates. At Level 4, vehicles are already considered fully autonomous. The car will drive itself and not require any human intervention in certain conditions. Level 4 vehicles are confined in geo-fenced areas and are prohibited from “going above certain speeds” or operate in certain extreme weather conditions. 

Level 5 is the ultimate goal of self-driving vehicles. Cars at this level are fully capable of operating autonomously in every situation and condition. In fact, you don’t have to be involved in controlling the vehicle as it can safely drive at any speed in any condition. 

Are They All Safe? 

Levels 2, 3, and even 4 are the most dangerous levels of autonomous driving. You can easily be lulled into thinking that the vehicle “has more control than it actually does.” You can choose to play with your phone or relax in the car, disengaging yourself from the road ahead until it’s too late. Of course, it is unreasonable for people to expect you to stop relaxing or wake up in only a few seconds. That’s unrealistic. 

In fact, vehicles at levels 2 to 4 could be more dangerous than level 0, 1, and 5 cars due to this uncertain element of control. Moreover, car manufacturers tend to confuse Level 2 vehicles with Level 3s due to the way they promote and market their cars. This makes people think that the vehicles they are seeing “have more autonomous capabilities than they actually do.” 

Another unintended consequence of AV technology is that you lose your ability to drive in certain situations as you become more and more dependent on your vehicle’s technology. If you get used to riding vehicles at levels 3 or 4, you won’t be equipped with the experience or know-how to handle life and death situations.    

The more we think about Level 5 vehicles, the more we realize how this can drastically change today’s society. Hence, companies should adapt their business to ensure they stay relevant in this AI-enabled future. 

Self-driving cars are the future of transportation. Imagine relaxing in a car without the added stress of driving. But for now, AV technology is not perfect. Hopefully, companies will strive to prioritize the safety of passengers when developing AVs. After all, innovation should not compromise safety and security. 

Hopefully, companies will strive to prioritize the safety of passengers when developing AVs. After all, innovation should not compromise safety and security / Photo by: welcomia via Shutterstock