Autonomous Driving Cars: All six levels autonomous vehicles explained

Automakers are trying to make our lives easier and safer in the future. They believe taking the human out of the equation and allowing the machines to take over all of the driving is better. But there are levels of autonomous driving, we explain all six of them.

Volvo XC90 self driving level 4 autonomous car
Volvo XC90 self driving level 4 autonomous car

There has been a lot of talk about self-driving cars around the world. Many automakers are launching new cars with various levels of autonomous driving tech, in addition to concepts that project a future where a driver would not be required at all. Vehicles are said to become so intelligent, human intervention would not be required in the future. However, till we reach the level of fully autonomous vehicles, there are phases along the way in the technology. However, different car makers have their own definition of each. This can be confusing to consumers, which is why we shall look at the six levels of autonomous vehicles as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) who have attempted to simplify them. They define them between no automation to full automation between Level 0 through to Level 5.

Level 0 Autonomous Vehicle Technology Explained

In Level 0 autonomous driving technology, cars do no part of the driving by themselves. The systems in the vehicles only issue warnings and may momentarily intervene. These come in the nature of blind-spot alters, lane departure warning or auto emergency braking.

Level 1 Autonomous Vehicle Technology Explained

With Level 1, the driver and the automated systems share the controls of the vehicle. An example of Level 1 would be Cruise Control or Adaptive Cruise Control where the driver manages the steering of the vehicle while the system takes over controls of the throttle and the braking while driving the vehicle at a set speed. Another shared driving aspect with Level 1 would include Parking Assistance where the opposite happens. The automated system manages the steering and the driver controls the speed. Lane Keep Assist can also be classified as Level 1, but when it does not work together with Adaptive Cruise Control.

SAE 2018 levels of automation Level 0 level 5 autonomous driving technology explained
SAE levels of automated driving technology explained – 2018

Level 2 Autonomous Vehicle Technology Explained

At Level 2, the automated system can take full control of the acceleration, braking and steering of the vehicle together. However, the driver must be prepared to intervene immediately if the system fails to respond correctly. At Level 2, the Adaptive Cruise Control can work together with Lane Keep Assist functions. In cars with Level 2 systems, the driver’s eyes are usually monitored with cameras to confirm their attention is on the road ahead.

Level 3 Autonomous Vehicle Technology Explained

In a vehicle with Level 3 standard of automation, the driver can safely turn their attention from driving. The vehicle is capable of driving by itself and does not require driver intervention as it can manage most situations. However, they would only work in certain conditions. For example, the camera view must not be obstructed and the weather is clear in addition to having mobile data connection or GPS. Additionally, at Level 3, the driver must also be ready to intervene. Level 3 autonomous drive features include Traffic Jam Chauffeur which helps the vehicle drive in slow stop-&-go traffic. Another example would be fully automated driving with Automated Lane-Keeping System which would, of course, have to meet international standards.

Level 4 Autonomous Vehicle Technology Explained

Level 4 is where things begin to get more interesting. Here the automated system is so intelligent that the vehicle may or may not be equipped with a steering wheel. In a vehicle with Level 4 technology, the driver can safely go to sleep or even leave the driver seat. However, the feature would only be accessible in limited areas or under special circus stances. These vehicles are designed to abort the trip and park safely should the driver fail to retake control. Level 4 would most likely be used in a robotised taxi and delivery services working in a specific area.

Level 5 Autonomous Vehicle Technology Explained

Volvo 360c concept Interior Sleeping level 5 autonomous vehicle
Volvo 360c Concept Level 5 autonomous vehicle

A vehicle with Level 5 autonomous driving technology requires no human intervention at all. A level 5 vehicle would be entirely robotised that works in all surfaces, weather, without any conditions being required to be met.

While Level 4 of Autonomous Vehicle Technology is already being applied in some parts of the world. Level 5 is expected to become a reality in the distant future. Some carmakers had projected that by 2021-2022, we would have Level 5 technology ready and being applied. However, the difficulty of achieving that level of technology and the debate over hand-of between machine and human still continues meaning that Level 5 is still some way ahead.

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