People have been talking about autonomous cars for years. From the opening credits of The Jetsons to the visions of yesterday’s automotive futurists after WWII, we have never been closer to the notion of a driverless tomorrow. GM’s CEO Mary Barra has heralded zero emissions, zero accidents, and zero congestion. Uncle Elon has extolled the virtues of a seamless autonomous future where traffic jams, fumes, and frustration are a thing of the past.
Even with all that blue sky, autonomous driving is still embryonic. Several OEMs are offering what is essentially cruise control on steroids, allowing the driver to remove thier hands from the steering wheel, but true autonomous driving is decades away. For now, let’s check in with our friends over at the Society of Automotive Engineers and let them give us the lowdown on the nomenclature of autonomous automotive technology
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines six levels of driving automation ranging from Level 0 (no driving automation) to Level 5 (full driving automation), These levels have been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and we’ll break it down for you here:
- Level 0 (No Driving Automation): The human driver performs all aspects of the driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems.
- Level 1 (Driver Assistance): The vehicle is controlled by the driver, but some driving assist features may be included in the vehicle design.
- Level 2 (Partial Driving Automation): The vehicle has combined automated functions, like acceleration and steering, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment at all times.
- Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation): The driver is a necessity but is not required to monitor the environment. The driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice.
- Level 4 (High Driving Automation): The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.
- Level 5 (Full Driving Automation): The vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. The driver may have the option to control the vehicle.
Today’s automakers offer vehicles with Level 2 autonomy. Some examples include Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s Super Cruise, Ford’s BlueCruise, and Nissan’s ProPilot. These systems combine automated functions such as acceleration and steering, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment at all times.
Autopilot is an advanced driver assistance system that enables safety and convenience behind the wheel. Autopilot reduces the overall workload of the driver. Each new Tesla comes with eight external cameras and powerful vision processing to provide an added measure of safety. All vehicles built for the North American market now use the company’s camera-based Tesla Vision to deliver Autopilot features, rather than radar.
Autopilot comes standard on every new Tesla. For owners who took delivery of their cars without Autopilot, there are multiple packages available for purchase, depending on when your car was built: Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, and Full Self-Driving Capability which is still not street legal yet.
GM’s Super Cruise
Super Cruise is also classified as a Level 2 semi-autonomous system. It has combined automated functions, like acceleration and steering, but the driver must remain engaged with the driving task and monitor the environment at all times.
Super Cruise uses a combination of cameras, LiDAR mapping, GPS information, and radar sensors to automatically steer and brake during highway driving. A small camera on the top of the steering column also uses infrared light to monitor the driver’s head position and track their eyes. The droopy head detecter is a key piece in making sure the system is used properly.
Super Cruise enables hands-free driving on over 200,000 miles of compatible highways in the U.S. and Canada. The feature can also initiate auto-lane changes and is compatible with a trailer on certain GM vehicles.
The Blue Oval is looking to make long drives just a bit easier with its BlueCruise driving aid. Similar to GM’s Super Cruise, this hands-free technology promises to work on more than 100,000 miles of pre-mapped, divided highway in the US and Canada.
BlueCruise is an evolution of Ford’s Co-Pilot 360, the automaker’s suite of advanced driver aids. Building on the hardware and software that enables adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability as well as lane centering, it allows you to drive on select roads, so-called Blue Zones, without your hands on the steering wheel.
Nissan’s ProPilot Assist
ProPilot is a hands-on driver-assist system that combines Nissan’s Intelligent Cruise Control and Steering Assist technologies. It includes a stop-and-hold function that can bring the vehicle to a full stop, holds it in place, and can bring you back up to speed when traffic starts moving again.
ProPilot Assist with Navi-link syncs with the navigation system providing additional information to predict the freeway ahead better. Features include Speed Adjust by Route which can help reduce your speed for tight curves and off-ramps, as well as Speed Limit Assist which gives drivers the option to adjust the set speed to the posted speed limit quickly.
Nissan ProPilot uses cameras and sensors to help with tasks such as keeping the vehicle centered in its lane and maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles. When ProPilot Assist is activated, the vehicle’s front-facing cameras will scan the road for lane markers. If their presence is confirmed, steering assist and Intelligent Cruise Control will engage, keeping the vehicle in its lane and traveling at the desired speed1.
Electrified’s Take: We are still a long way from autonomous driving replacing humans. The fly in the ointment is getting the nation’s fleet of cars suited up with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology, cameras, and LiDAR or similar technology. That alone will take decades. A mishmash of humans and AVs is way harder to pull off than a “homogenous” fleet of connected AVs recognizing each other, their surroundings, and “talking” to each other without missing a beat or killing anyone. Then there is the question of security and how to safeguard autonomous cars and the software surrounding them from dubious characters or Nigerian princes…
The US recently decided on a standardized plug for EV charging in North America and that only took ten years! For now, Level 2 autonomous technology is cruise control on steroids, and where AV evolution has stalled, for now.