Self-driving cars are gaining popularity with each passing day.
The global market for self-driving cars is expected to grow by a CAGR of 36.2%, garnering a revenue of USD 173.15 billion by 2023. Thus, the autonomous car segment holds great potential for businesses investing in it. Currently, Tesla is the industry leader, but the door is wide open for other entrants to capitalize on the growing market. Self-driving cars incorporate technologies such as computer vision, artificial intelligence, IoT sensors, and radars. These technologies are implemented at varying degrees, enabling different levels of automation. The Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) has set global standards for automation and have divided them into six levels. The six levels of self-driving cars are enlisted below.
Cars have been classified into six levels depending upon the involvement of the driver in controlling and driving the vehicle. The levels range from level 0, no automation to level 5, a fully autonomous vehicle. Here’s what each level of automation means:
Level 0 is the lowest level of automation. Basically, a level 0 self-driving car has no self-driving capabilities at all. The driver needs to control and drive the vehicle all the time. We can think of the cars in their early iterations to even cars from the early 2000s as a level 0 car. These are the cars which didn’t have a computer at all, or even power steering, which has become a common feature these days. The only driver support features available in them included emergency braking and lane departure warning systems. Examples of level 0 self-driving cars include cars from the early days to vehicles as recent as the early 2000s, such as the Ford Model T, 2007 Ford Focus, and the 2010 Toyota Prius.
Most present-day cars can fit into the level 1 segment of autonomy, as defined by the SAE. The automobiles in this category include built-in capabilities for operating the vehicle. The driver controls the mobility of the car. However, the car has one advanced driver-assistance system, such as lane-keep technology or adaptive cruise control. During the commute, the driver is in total control of the vehicle, and the integrated systems can only assist the driver with tasks such as steering or accelerating and de-accelerating the vehicle. The level 1 autonomous cars include cars that you might be quite familiar with like the 2011 Jeep Cherokee and Ford F150.
A level 2 vehicle has two or more advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). These automated systems can work together to relieve the driver of control partially. These assistance systems vary in the sophistication of the technology and are increasingly becoming common. The driver must remain engaged with the driving task, but he can transfer the control of the vehicle to the machine. However, the driver must be ready to intervene at any moment and take control of the car. Level 2 includes vehicles that have the currently popular autonomous features such as Tesla Autopilot, General Motors’ Super Cruise, and the Nissan ProPilot Assist.
The complexity level jumps leaps and bounds between levels two and three. It is much more significant than the jump from level one to two. In levels zero to two, the driver does the controlling and monitoring of the vehicle. At level three, the driver is still required, but the vehicle can take over all aspects of the driving tasks under certain conditions. For example, a vehicle that is capable of controlling itself on a highway and can drive at the speed limit can be considered as having a level 3 automation. With level 3 autonomy, the driver can take his eyes off the road, but his presence is still required in emergencies. The Audi A8 with AI Traffic Jam Pilot system falls under level 3 of automation.
Level 4 automation is where the AI systems start to take control. This is where true autonomous driving steps in. A vehicle in level 4 autonomy has the capability of completing an entire journey without any human intervention. It can even operate without the driver at all, but the vehicle has some restrictions. The driver might need to take control if it’s raining or snowing, as the driving conditions can get a bit tricky. Currently, there aren’t any level 4 self-driving cars available to consumers yet. There are, although, test vehicles that fall under level 4 category. For example, Waymo LLC is testing their level 4 vehicles. A Waymo vehicle doesn’t have a safety driver and can complete the trip autonomously. However, these vehicles are currently being tested under control conditions. The vehicles are currently being tested in Arizona, and particularly under dry conditions.
Most industry experts believe it will take more than a decade for level 5 cars to become a reality. A level 5 car will be truly autonomous. The vehicle will be capable of operating autonomously under any given conditions. At this level, there is no need to provide provisions for human controls, no gear-shifting system, no pedals, nor even a steering wheel. Humans will be mere passengers in a level 5 self-driving car. Level 5 automated cars are a distant reality, but the industry leaders in the automobile sector are very much vocal about these cars. Their ultimate goal is to make level 5 cars available on a commercial scale. General Motors has been experimenting with its Cruise autonomous test vehicles to make these cars a reality as soon as possible. Nuro, too, is testing out level 5 autonomous vehicles. The cars are currently being tested to deliver groceries over short distances. The vehicles carry groceries from the store to the customer’s house, and once the groceries are taken out, they drive back to the store.
The major challenge faced by level 5 autonomous cars is that technology isn’t developed enough to produce a true level 5 autonomous cars. General Motors’ Cruise test vehicles and the Nuro cars are just the first steps in the development of level 5 cars. The true potential of a level 5 autonomous car is unmatched by these vehicles and still have a long way to go. Another barrier faced by level 5 autonomous cars is the skepticism of people concerning autonomous vehicles. The current level 3 cars have been involved in accidents, and this raises genuine concerns with regards to safety with level 5 cars as they are entirely autonomous. Then there are certain questions that need concrete answers such as, ‘Who is at fault if the autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident? Is it the vehicle manufacturer or the artificial intelligence system provider? Who pays for the insurance of the vehicle and the passenger?.’ Going by the current public sentiment, it will be difficult to convince people to trust fully autonomous vehicles, even if the questions mentioned above are answered.
It is unlikely that level 5 autonomous cars will be a reality anytime soon. And when they roll out for commercial use, it will mostly be luxury cars in the initial stage, providing a unique experience to the elite. It will be much longer when the technology finds its way for the average car buyer. It is, however, exciting to think about the potential of truly autonomous vehicles becoming a common sight. We can only aim at moving higher on the levels of self-driving cars and drive to level 5 as quickly as possible.
Naveen is the Founder and CEO of Allerin, a software solutions provider that delivers innovative and agile solutions that enable to automate, inspire and impress. He is a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience, with extensive experience in customizing open source products for cost optimizations of large scale IT deployment. He is currently working on Internet of Things solutions with Big Data Analytics. Naveen completed his programming qualifications in various Indian institutes.