“Autonomous things” was listed as the top trend to watch out for on Gartner’s Top Tech Trends for 2019 with David Cearley, vice president and Gartner fellow, telling us to expect greater collaboration among intelligent things this year. In recent years we have seen robots, drones, appliances and other types of autonomous things perform tasks that would normally be performed by humans but grabbing the spotlight over the last few years has been the rise of the autonomous car.
Back in 2014, the international Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) first introduced the concept of autonomy levels. The report outlined six levels of autonomy that automakers would need to achieve on their way to building the no-steering-wheel self-driving bubble pods of the future. And in September 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ditched its own formal classification system and the new SAE standard.
Level 0 – No automation
Level zero means you have complete control. Acceleration, braking and steering are all controlled by a human driver at all times, even if they’re assisted by warning tones or safety intervention systems. If your car has automated emergency braking, for example, it can still be viewed as level zero.
Level 1 – Driver Assistance
In certain driving modes, the car can either take control of the steering wheel or the pedals. The best examples of level one automation are adaptive cruise control and park assist. The computer is never in control of both steering and acceleration/braking.
Level 2 – Partial Automation
Level two vehicle has certain modes in which the car can take over both the pedals AND the wheel, but only under certain conditions, and the driver must maintain ultimate control over the vehicle. This is where Tesla’s Autopilot has been at since 2014.
Level 3 – Conditional Automation
In a level 3 vehicle, the car has certain modes that will fully take over the driving responsibilities, under certain conditions, but a driver is expected to retake control when the system asks for it. This car can decide when to change lanes, and how to respond to dynamic incidents on the road, but uses the human driver as the fallback system. These are dangerous waters in terms of liability, and automakers are more or less trying to skip over it and move straight to level four.
Level 4 – High Automation
A level four vehicle can be driven by a human, but it doesn’t ever need to be. It can drive itself full time under the right circumstances, and if it encounters something it can’t handle, it can ask for human assistance, but will park itself and put its passengers in no danger if human help isn’t forthcoming. At this point, you’re looking at a true self-driving car. This is the level Google/Waymo’s test cars have been operating at for a number of years now.
Level 5 – Full Automation
Level 5 is when things get really exciting. You don’t need seats that face forward or even a steering wheel. The car neither needs, nor wants any human assistance.
So the question is, when can we expect to be riding around in a level 5 fully autonomous vehicle – 2025? 2030? Well, it might just be a lot sooner than you think because it was recently announced that self-driving cars are to be tested at Manchester Airport ferrying passengers across the airport and between terminals this year.
These fully autonomous cars known as Pods on Demand (PODs) have no steering wheel or controls and members of the public will be invited to try them out to determine if they improve access to the airport. Passengers who trial them will also be able to try out the cars ‘in-vehicle check in’ before they reach the terminal.
Self-driving cars are included in the Greater Manchester Transport Strategy to 2040 but the Government predicts we can expect to see fully autonomous cars on UK roads by 2021 so watch this space!