The Next Phase of Autonomous Vehicles Revealed
The technology is ramping up.
And it’s growing more powerful.
Sure, we’ve seen some resistance to the trend… but what Ray and I have seen this week at one of the premier autonomous vehicle (AV) events around tells me this trend is big. And maybe the biggest thing since the advent of the personal computer decades ago.
AVs represent a fundamental and complete reinvention of the way we look at transportation. And not just in cars, but also our infrastructure and communications networks.
In short, AVs are a big, big deal.
What you may not know, however, are the varying degrees of autonomous driving. In fact, you may even have some of these systems already in your vehicle.
That’s why today we want to explain and differentiate the various levels of AV systems, how they work and when you can expect to see them en masse on a road near you.
Level 1 — Driver Assistance
You can think of Level 1 as things like backup cameras or braking-assist functions.
Much of this tech is already in your newer-model vehicles.
At Level 1 automation, the driver still handles all accelerating, braking and monitoring of the surrounding environment. But at times when the data these sensors collect dictate, you may get braking automatically applied if you get too close to another car.
Level 2 — Partial Automation
Most automakers are currently developing vehicles at this level, where the vehicle can assist with steering or acceleration functions and allow the driver to disengage from some of their tasks.
For example, on a previous trip to Detroit we had the opportunity to drive a preproduction Ford Expedition in Detroit. That model was towing a boat and equipped with backup trailer assist. Using markers on the trailer, sensors in the back bumper and an army of cameras, the feature allowed me to back a 30-foot boat into a parking spot in seconds. While Ray was backing into the parking spot, the steering wheel moved around without him lifting a finger. It was a little creepy, but the Ford engineer sitting next to me assured me this is normal.
With Level 2 automation, the driver must always be ready to take control of the vehicle and is still responsible for most safety-critical functions and all monitoring of the environment, but at times the automation can be relied upon for things like parking.
Level 3 — Conditional Automation
The biggest leap from Level 2 to Level 3 and above is that starting at Level 3, the vehicle itself controls all monitoring of the environment using a vast array of sensing equipment ranging from radar and lidar to advanced GPS mapping software and high-definition cameras.
The driver’s attention is still critical at this level but can disengage from “safety critical” functions like braking and leave it to the technology. Many current Level 3 vehicles require no human attention under safer conditions such as highway driving in good weather.
But what happens when you’re in a low-signal area, on a winding mountain pass and it’s snowing?
Level 4 — High Automation
At levels 4 and 5, the vehicle is capable of steering, braking, accelerating and monitoring the vehicle and roadway, as well as responding to events and determining when to change lanes, turn and use signals.
At Level 4, the autonomous driving system first notifies the driver when conditions are safe, and only then does the driver switch the vehicle into this mode. It cannot determine between more dynamic driving situations like traffic jams or a merge onto the highway, but as we mentioned before, if, say, you’re cruising down Route 96 here in Michigan on a summer day, you can rely on Level 4 to get you most of the way without having to lift a finger.
Level 5 — Complete Automation
This Level 5 autonomy is the industry’s “golden goose.” It’s the goal most companies that have pivoted into this space are trying to achieve.
This level of autonomous driving requires absolutely no human attention. Technically speaking, this means there isn’t a need for pedals, brakes or a steering wheel.
With Level 5 automation, the vehicle system controls all critical tasks, monitoring of the environment and identification of unique driving conditions like traffic jams, snow, pedestrians or road debris.
Level 5 uses advanced AI and machine learning to process millions of data points in the blink of an eye.
But safety and the ability to override systems, even at Level 5 autonomy, is going to be a regulated must-have in the next-gen autonomous vehicles.
A Final Word on AVs
Currently most AV technology is at Level 3. Where we are heading in the next 5-10 years is Level 4.
Realistically speaking, Level 5 may not be achievable as it eliminates the human as a fail-safe, almost entirely. That won’t fly with most proposed policies regarding AVs, but Level 4 is leaps and bounds beyond what we know currently at Levels 2 and 3.
That all said…
The potential benefits of this technology are groundbreaking. As I stated before, the implications that driverless cars have on the way we design everything from wireless networks to cities and everything in between means not only is this tech groundbreaking at a societal level but it also will soon offer massive paydays for investors once this space begins to scale.
The best part is — with me, you’re in on the ground floor. I’ll have more issues on this opportunity today and tomorrow, as soon as I touch back down from my flight.
For Technology Profits Daily,
Managing editor, Technology Profits Daily