Blog a Week - 2018

The 5 levels of autonomous cars!! (BAW1)

In a slight change from my normal blog posts, I thought that it would be good to take a look at the emerging tech around autonomous cars.  I’m sure that autonomous cars will continue to evolve and will become the main type of car purchased in the future.  In reading a little more about autonomous cars, I’ve discovered that there are actually 5 autonomous car levels.  I’ll provide a brief introduction to them here but more can be found at the following web page:

These levels are a set of guidelines determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)… the levels are numbered from 1 to 5 with 1 being the most basic type of automation and the 5 being the most advanced.

Level 1:  A single aspect is automated

This is the most basic type of automation and is where one element of the driving process is taken over in isolation.  The information is provided from sensors and cameras but the driver is still in control.

This was introduced back in the 1990s and 2000s and includes lane-keep assist and auto cruise control.


Level 2:  Chips control two or more elements

Level 2 is where it become more interesting as this is most of the autonomy that we see in our cars today.  Computers take control over multiple functions and are intelligent enough to weave, speed and steer systems utilising multiple data sources.

The best way to look at this is by looking at self-parking cars, where the computers will utilise multiple sources (sensors etc.) to identify a parking space and will then control the steering etc. to assist with parking the car.  The key thing is that the human is still very much in control to override.


Level 3:  The car can handle safety-critical functions

Level 3 is officially called ‘conditional automation’ – basically a mode which lets all aspects of the driving to be done for you but crucially the driver must be on hand to respond to a request to intervene.

Audi may be one of the first mainstream manufacturers to offer a Level 3 autonomous car with its new A8 due for release in Autumn 2018.  This will utilise next-gen sensors, lots of programming algorithms and laws


Level 4:  Fully autonomous in controlled areas

Everything mentioned so far is here already or is not too far away.  If we look a little further into the future we’ll see Level 4 autonomous cars (the ones that apparently 20 car makers in the US say that they will sell by 2022).  These are cars that will fully drive themselves in geofenced metropolitan areas.  These initial cars will be limited to metropolitan areas due to better mapping capabilities, car-to-car communications and off-site call centres being available to improve the accuracy of the experience.

These are truly driverless cars and will provide a genuine hands-off driving experience but I would still expect the driverless element to only function with a human onboard.


Level 5:  Fully autonomous, anywhere… driver is optional!!

Level 5 is where everything changes for car users.  The main key difference between level 4 and level 5 is that the driver will not need to be in the car at the time and the car will be able to drive on any roads rather than just within a metropolitan area.  Interestingly, it is predicted that level 5 cars will begin to appear soon after level 4 cars.  This will also be the point where we’ll see the steering wheel as optional – imagine the Audi cars in i-Robot.


Moral Decisions

I think that it is widely known that creating a car that can drive and be autonomous isn’t really the difficult bit (although, it is a pretty difficult thing to achieve)… the truly difficult item is programming for the moral decisions that need to be made during a drive.  For example, if the brakes on the car fail with a family of four onboard and the car is heading towards a pedestrian crossing with a young mum and child on the crossing… should the car plough into a concrete barrier, killing all of the people in the car or hit the mum and child killing them??

These are not easy questions to answer.  To help build up a view of what show occur in that type of situation there is the MIT Moral Machine ( which poses this type of question.  You are presented with a number of different questions and need to decide what should happen.


Blog-a-Week 2018 Posting (BAW):

In previous years, I have had periods throughout the year where I have been unable to post an entry to my blog.  During 2018, my aim is to post a blog entry each week of the year.  I’m hoping that the blog entries will all be useful bits of information or items that I’ve been working on recently but if the standard of the entries drops, I apologise now, as this could have been a busy week and I wasn’t able to put in as much time as I would have liked into the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *