The race is on
Autonomous driving is possibly one of the most exciting things to ever happen in the car industry; however, it is also one of the most over-hyped. The excitement started building in 2010 when Google introduced its self-driving car and it’s never really gone away. The key take-away is that autonomous cars are coming; just not as fast as some have predicted in the past.
Industry experts have defined five levels in the progression of autonomous driving. Each level describes the extent to which a car takes over the task and responsibility from the driver, and how the car and driver interact.
Level 1: Driver assistance. Driver assistance systems support the driver through such things as automatic cruise control and automatic emergency braking, but do not take control.
Level 2: Partly automated driving. Driver assistance functions, can take control but the driver continues to operate the vehicle.
Level 3: Highly automated driving. In certain situations, the driver can disengage from driving for extended periods of time - some refer to this as ‘eyes off road’. The latest Audi A8 supports Level 3, for example.
Level 4: Fully automated driving. The car drives itself the most of the time within specific areas such as cities or motorway. The driver must remain able to drive but can, for example, read a magazine.
Level 5: Fully automated. The driver can have “hands off, eyes off, brain off”. This means that there is no driver and people in the car are all passengers. There is also no need for a steering wheel.
Many new car models are coming out with Level 2 functionality down to mid-range family cars however, as an industry; we have barely scratched the surface of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) functionality; far less full autonomy. However, newspaper headlines are screaming that fully autonomous driving is ‘just around the corner’.
The first fully automated vehicle that you will see on the road will be robo-taxis in around three years. A robo-taxi, or robo-cab as some say, is a self-driving taxi with Level 4 or Level 5 autonomy.
The majority of these vehicles will be owned and operated by taxi service operators, ride-sharing services, new entrants from the tech sector and OEMs, and will be rented to the consumers, either by the minute or mile. Robo-taxis will offer the user a door-to-door service, enabling them to work, rest or be entertained during the journey, whilst also allowing them to share the ride and cost with other commuters.