Modern vehicles provide partly automated features such as keeping the car within its lane, speed controls or emergency braking. Nonetheless, differences remain between a fully autonomous self-driving car on one hand and driver assistance technologies on the other hand. According to the BBC, confusion between those concepts leads to deaths
Autonomous means self-governing. Automated vehicle means a motor vehicle designed and constructed to move autonomously for certain periods of time without continuous driver supervision but in respect of which driver intervention is still expected or required. Many historical projects related to vehicle automation have been automated (made automatic) subject to a heavy reliance on artificial aids in their environment, such as magnetic strips. Autonomous control implies satisfactory performance under significant uncertainties in the environment and the ability to compensate for system failures without external intervention. A fully automated vehicle” means a motor vehicle that has been designed and constructed to move autonomously without any driver supervision;
To enable a car to travel without any driver embedded within the vehicle, some companies use a remote driver. Some driving automation systems may indeed be autonomous if they perform all of their functions independently and self-sufficiently, but if they depend on communication and/or cooperation with outside entities, they should be considered cooperative rather than autonomous.
There is some inconsistency in the terminology used in the self-driving car industry. Various organizations have proposed to define an accurate and consistent vocabulary. In SAE’s automation level definitions, “driving mode” means “a type of driving scenario with characteristic dynamic driving task requirements (e.g., expressway merging, high speed cruising, low speed traffic jam, closed-campus operations, etc.)
Level 0: The automated system issues warnings and may momentarily intervene but has no sustained vehicle control.
Level 1 (“hands on”): The driver and the automated system share control of the vehicle. Examples are systems where the driver controls steering and the automated system controls engine power to maintain a set speed (Cruise Control) or engine and brake power to maintain and vary speed (Adaptive Cruise Control or ACC); and Parking Assistance, where steering is automated while speed is under manual control. 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. The Automatic Emergency Braking feature which alerts the driver to a crash and deploys full braking capacity is also a Level 1 feature.
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 intervene immediately at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly. The shorthand “hands off” is not meant to be taken literally – 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.
Level 4 (“mind off”): As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety, e.g. the driver may safely go to sleep or leave the driver’s seat. Self-driving is supported only in limited spatial areas (geofenced) or under special circumstances. Outside of these areas or circumstances, the vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip, e.g. park the car, if the driver does not retake control. An example would be a robotic taxi or a robotic delivery service that only covers selected locations in a specific area.
Level 5 (“steering wheel optional”): No human intervention is required at all. An example would be a robotic taxi that works an all roads all over the world, all year around, in all weather conditions.
In the formal SAE definition above, note in particular the shift from SAE 2 to SAE 3: the human driver no longer has to monitor the environment. This is the final aspect of the “dynamic driving task” that is now passed over from the human to the automated system. At SAE 3, the human driver still has responsibility to intervene when asked to do so by the automated system. At SAE 4 the human driver is always relieved of that responsibility and at SAE 5 the automated system will never need to ask for an intervention.
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