6 levels of autonomous driving




The definition of a driverless car is contentious and often reduced to phrases like “a computer-controlled car that drives itself” or “a vehicle that can guide itself without human conduction”. Already here we feel a difference between ‘can’ and ‘does’. Is a Tesla model S not a driverless car from the moment the highway pilot takes over? Can a vehicle change definition by touching and taking over a steering wheel?
To avoid future discussion the industry decided to divide self-driving cars into different levels, 'the 6 levels of autonomous driving' according to their technological advancements and requirements. Divisions were made my many involved but one of the clearest today is still the schematic of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed in January 2014, describing six degrees of automated driving:

6 levels of autonomous driving
@ SAE - 6 levels of autonomous driving

Level 0: presents traditional human driving with no steering- or braking aid from the car itself. The driver constantly performs all aspects of the driving task and must constantly monitor the drive.
Level 1: presents the first driverless aids coming available. In the first place we think of cruise control and automatic brake systems assisting (or even taking over) the acceleration/deceleration from the human driver. Level 1 also includes parking assists which take over the steering wheel but where the driver still needs to control the pedals.
Level 2: includes vehicles that can take over from a human driver in both steering and acceleration in some specific cases. Autonomous parking and advanced cruise control on highways are the best examples of this level.
Level 3: From here it gets interesting. This is the level automakers and tech companies have on the market today. Vehicles control steering and acceleration in some cases, notifying the driver on its possibilities and limits making the switch between driver controlled and vehicle controlled driving smooth and safe. In this case the driver does no longer need to monitor the drive at all times, but must at all times be ready to take control of the vehicle within a given time. While officially it was Tesla bringing the first level 3 autonomous car on the market, there has been a lot of discussion on the fact that Autopilot did not communicate well its possibilities and limits to the human driver.
Level 4: Level 4 is for many the first stage of an actual driverless experience. This will have to become the next stage of driving in the near future. In level 4 a human driver can hand over full control to the vehicle in certain situations, without the need of that human driver to monitor the drive. This level has a clear split between technology and legislation. At level 4 the human in the driver seat no longer carries the responsibility of the driving car, however the driver is still required to be in the vehicle. And also very importantly: he can hit the off-button and drive manually if he wants to.
Level 5: presents a vehicle in constant and full control with a human no longer necessary for the vehicle to drive. Fully autonomous driving brings us into the more distant future where driving is completely automated and steering wheels or brake pedals are no longer in existence.
For more information on the driverless car levels watch this video. It explains into further detail the 5 levels of autonomous vehicles as proposed by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which are similar to the 6 levels from SAE.