Commercial Truck Trader wrote a very interesting article about Self-Driving vehicles. It breaks down the different levels of these types of cars.
In 2013, the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defined five different levels of autonomous driving. In October 2016, the NHTSA updated their policy to reflect that they have officially adopted the levels of autonomy outlined in the SAE International's J3016 document (you can download the full, 30-page document for free here) .
Level 0: This is a vehicle with zero automation. The driver makes all of the decisions and causes all movements. There might be bells and whistles, like back-up or lane departure alerts, but you must still make the vehicle change directions or stop.
Level 1: This level is a regular vehicle that has one specific item of automation, like cruise control or steering, is active on the car. Most late-model vehicles are at this level.
Level 2: Level 2 vehicles are the first step in what many would actually consider self-driving. The driver is able to disengage by not holding the steering wheel and not pressing the foot pedal at the same time while the vehicle continues to move and stay centered in the lane.
Level 3: Car manufacturers are working to make vehicles that are at level 3 and 4. At this level, a human is needed for unusual situations, but the vehicle handles most of the driving because it is aware of traffic and environmental conditions. From a similar article by Tech Republic, Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said this is "the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4." He's focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. "We're not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that's not a fair proposition," McBride said.""
Level 4: This level is considered to be fully autonomous. Level 4 vehicles are "designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip." However, it's important to note that this is limited to the "operational design domain (ODD)" of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.
Level 5: At this level, the vehicle does not need a steering wheel or gas pedals. It is considered to be a driverless car. Not even in the Jetsons did they have these vehicles, but Google is working on it. Learn about Waymo here.
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