All this talk about automated driving can worry some within the driving professions. What what constitutes a driverless automated car?
A classification system based on six different levels (ranging from fully manual to fully automated systems) was published in 2014 by SAE International, an automotive standardisation body. This classification system is based on the amount of driver intervention and attentiveness required, rather than the vehicle capabilities, although these are very loosely related.
Automated system issues warnings and may momentarily intervene but has no sustained vehicle control.
Level 1 (”hands on”)
Driver and automated system shares control over the vehicle. An example would be Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) where the driver controls steering and the automated system controls speed. Using Parking Assistance, steering is automated while speed is manual. The driver must be ready to retake full control at any time. Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA) Type II is a further example of level 1 self driving.
Level 2 (”hands off”):
The automated system takes full control of the vehicle (accelerating, braking, and steering). The driver must monitor the driving and be prepared to immediately intervene at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly. The shorthand ”hands off” is not meant to be taken literally. In fact, contact between hand and wheel is often mandatory during SAE 2 driving, to confirm that the driver is ready to intervene.
Level 3 (”eyes off”):
The driver can safely turn their attention away from the driving tasks, e.g. the driver can text or watch a movie. The vehicle will handle situations that call for an immediate response, like emergency braking. The driver must still be prepared to intervene within some limited time, specified by the manufacturer, when called upon by the vehicle to do so. In 2017 the Audi A8 Luxury Sedan was the first commercial car to claim to be able to do level 3 self driving. The car has a so-called Traffic Jam Pilot. When activated by the human driver, the car takes full control of all aspects of driving in slow-moving traffic at up to 60 kilometers per hour. The function works only on highways with a physical barrier separating oncoming traffic.
Level 4 (”mind off”):
As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety, i.e. the driver may safely go to sleep or leave the driver's seat. Self driving is supported only in limited areas (geofenced) or under special circumstances, like traffic jams. Outside of these areas or circumstances, the vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip, i.e. park the car, if the driver does not retake control.
Level 5 (”steering wheel optional”):
No human intervention is required. An example would be a robotic taxi.
The top level of automated driving is still a long way off for the UK. Sensors struggle with white lorries, clear skies, snow and extreme weather. It also has a melt down when no lines are painted on the roads.
The infrastructure to bring in level 5 driverless cars remains astronomical and quite simply the technology isn’t there yet.