What self-driv­ing cars are about

Motor Equipment News - - OEM -

Cars that drive them­selves, or at least par­tially drive them­selves, has been a hot topic over the last sev­eral years. Ford has an­nounced plans for a fully au­tonomous ve­hi­cle in 2021, in ad­di­tion to al­ready hav­ing a va­ri­ety of semi-au­tonomous tech­nolo­gies in their cur­rent prod­uct line-up.

There are so many terms and so many names for th­ese tech­nolo­gies that are some­times used in­ter­change­ably, and some­times in­cor­rectly. Some peo­ple call them au­tonomous ve­hi­cles, semi­au­tonomous ve­hi­cles, or au­to­mated cars. The list goes on. Many peo­ple think they mean the same thing, but they don’t.

The first step in un­der­stand­ing th­ese terms is to know that the So­ci­ety of Au­to­mo­tive Engi­neers (SAE) has stan­dard­ised the dif­fer­ent stages of ve­hi­cle au­to­ma­tion with five lev­els, de­fined by the au­to­mo­tive stan­dard­iza­tion body. This sys­tem is based on how much the driver needs to in­ter­vene and pay at­ten­tion while driv­ing not on ve­hi­cle ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

When it comes to “self-driv­ing” cars, here’s what may ac­tu­ally be in development: Level 0: You do all the heavy lift­ing. Ve­hi­cles in this level need the driver’s full at­ten­tion to op­er­ate the steer­ing, brakes, throt­tle and power. Level 1: Help­ing out a lit­tle. The ma­jor­ity of the ve­hi­cle func­tions are con­trolled by the driver, but some other func­tions can be con­trolled by the car au­to­mat­i­cally (i.e. cruise con­trol). Level 2: Be­ing ready to take the wheel. At least two func­tions in the ve­hi­cle are au­to­mated where the driver isn’t phys­i­cally op­er­at­ing the ve­hi­cle. How­ever, the driver still has to stay alert in case he/she has to take con­trol. Level 3: Learn­ing to let go. Al­though driv­ers are still re­quired to be present and alert at this level, most safety-crit­i­cal func­tions and con­trols are shifted al­most com­pletely to the ve­hi­cle. How­ever, the driver must be ready to in­ter­vene if nec­es­sary. To­day, most au­tomak­ers are at Lev­els 1, 2 or 3, which are re­ferred to as semi-au­tonomous be­cause the driver is re­quired to be in­volved at some point in the driv­ing. Level 4: Sit back and en­joy the ride. This is where you can call a ve­hi­cle fully au­tonomous (some­times called a driver­less car, self-driv­ing car or au­to­mated car). The ve­hi­cles are de­signed to per­form all safe­ty­crit­i­cal driv­ing func­tions and mon­i­tor road con­di­tions, but only in spe­cific ar­eas mapped in 3D dur­ing weather ap­pro­pri­ate for the best per­for­mance of sen­sor tech­nol­ogy. Level 5: You can even look at your phone. No hu­mans are needed as the ve­hi­cle won’t have a steer­ing wheel or ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal for the driver to use.

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