The promise of the future has always long-held the idea of the autonomous car. While
there is still some trepidation surrounding autonomous or self-driving vehicles, more in
the transportation industry are becoming privy to the myriad of benefits an autonomous
vehicle can bring. Studies suggest that autonomous driving could decrease traffic
congestion, reduce carbon emissions, eliminate parking frustrations, and lower the
overall costs of maintaining roads.
With all that in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise why so many technologies and
transportation companies are committed to developing autonomous vehicles. When
speaking of autonomous cars, it is important to understand the 5 key levels of driving
automation and what they mean to you. What are the 5 levels of autonomous driving
and how do they differ? Let’s explore these levels and how each is capable of acting
and reacting on its own.
The 5 Levels of Autonomous Driving
Level One – Basic Driver Assistance
Thanks to intelligent mapping software solutions, level one autonomous driving is all
about assisting with basic functions. It is not a self-driving car as the driver still
accelerates, brakes, and monitors their surroundings for potential issues. However,
level one autonomous driving can offer a little bit extra protection by braking for you if
you get too close to another car on the highway or while implementing adaptive cruise
control functions. Regular car companies such as Volvo and Subaru regularly rely on
intelligent mapping software solutions to offer basic driver assistance standard on most
Level Two – Partial Automation (Most Common)
As drivers start to demand greater safety features, partial automation is becoming more
common. In fact, most automakers, domestic and foreign, are developing vehicles
equipped with partial automation. With this automation in tow, a vehicle can assist a
driver with steering and acceleration functions. This does free up the driver from some
of the grinding tasks of a long commute. However, unlike a fully autonomous vehicle,
partial automation does require the driver to be alert and aware at all times. You must
always be ready and willing to take control of the vehicle.
Level 3 – Conditional Automation
Level 2 and Level 3 automation is quite different. At Level 3, the vehicle controls itself a
bit more using sensors such as LiDAR. The vehicle is also capable of monitoring the
surrounding environment. While driver attention and engagement is still key, the car can
take on critical safety functions such as braking. A driver can easily leave much of the
heavy lifting up to the vehicle when conditions seem safe. Under 37 miles per hour,
most Level 3 vehicles don’t require much human attention whatsoever.
Level 4 – Heavy or High Automation
With Level 4 automation, a vehicle is more than capable of responding to events on its
own. This means the car can steer, brake, accelerate, and monitor the vehicle roadway.
Additionally, the vehicle can respond to surrounding events such as knowing when to
change lanes, turn, or implement a signal.
Unlike the previous levels, a Level 4 autonomous driving system can easily notify a
driver when conditions are safe. Only when a vehicle has decided conditions are right
can a driver switch the vehicle into a fully autonomous mode. Unfortunately, Level 4
vehicles cannot be used in situations such as heavy traffic or when merging onto a
Level 5 – Complete Automation
Odds are, this is what comes to mind when you think of an autonomous vehicle. A Level
5 Car features complete automation and the best in intelligent mapping software
solutions. This level of driving does not require human attention. The vehicle controls all
critical tasks such as braking, steering, and turning. With sensors, the car can monitor
the environment and identify unique driving conditions such as road work or a massive
traffic jam. Simply put, Level 5 cars are the self-driving cars of the future.