An article appears on the news, on facebook or wherever you siphon your l
atest of latest from about self-driving cars, and the first thought that everyone has in their heads is a little bubble car that completely drives itself and the passenger sits back and plays solitaire. Or some close variation. This conception is what sparks so many debates:
- “If there is no steering wheel a driver can’t assume control”
- “What if the car doesn’t brake?”
- “What if it suddenly decides to accelerate?”
The thing is, all that technology is old hat. What we’re really working on at the moment is a car’s ability to effectively integrate with other objects on the road. The ability for a car to a
ctually drive within legal parameters and automate basic functions has been around for the better part of a decade. We’re talking about advanced versions of brake assist, cruise control, and self parking. If you’ve even
been in a car that parks itself, you’ll realise that vehicles and the sensors they have are very very good at identifying static solid objects and lines and making the required decisions, much faster than we are.
So – Did you know there are classifications, or levels of driving autonomy?
Level 0: This is where the driver has full control over everything – Gears, steering, brakes throttle, power. Basically the status quo up until a few years ago.
Level 1: The semi-autonomous. The human driver has control over nearly all aspects but the car can assist with some functions like gears, braking assist etc.
Level 2: There are at least 2 functions which can become automated. Say cruise-control and lane-centering options, which is almost a standard in any new vehicle now-a-days, particularly in family vehicles. The driver must still be able to take control of the vehicle at any time.
Level 3: In certain traffic situations the driver is able to designate non safety-critical functions to the vehicle. the driver must still be present but does not have to be as over the car functions as level 02 though must still be able to take control at any time. This is actually a sticky level for a lot of designers, i.e where the car can steer itself, but you need to have your hands on the wheel. Its awkward, people don’t do it, and it’s difficult to design.
Level 4: This is what is meant by “fully autonomous.” According to the DOT, level 4 vehicles are “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.” It’s what Tesla says will be available by 2018.
Level 5: This is the current golden throne. A fully autonomous vehicle that not only does not require ANY human intervention in the operation of the vehicle, but does not have the capacity for humans to do so either.
It’s this last level that causes the controversy more than anything else. There are so many reasons why this is the case, but the over-riding theme of the matter is that we as a species are inherently mistrustful of anything we can’t directly control. An interesting conversation i was listening to the other day, was in reference to how, in the event of a ma
jor pile-up on something like the AUTOBAHN that was the result of an autonomous vehicle would likely spark a very vocal voice for the cessation of ALL autonomous vehicles for safety. The interesting, and largely truthful argument was that this would be the case, regardless of whether or not the car had a perfect safety record up until that point and it would completely ignore the fact that we humans, as drivers, cause so many more accidents than failed tech. This begins to stretch into another conversation topic but it certainly was interesting to think about how the change always sparks resistance (sometimes rightly, sometimes unnecessarily), despite the fact we’ve been using the sum of the parts of this technology for over a decade.
Self-driving cars. I’m all for the technology advancements that this will bring. I think ultimately that it’s going to be a necessary step with ever increasing population densities but yes, absolutely agree that there are a mountain of obstacles to get past (like job loss, safety and legalities) before we accept and push the mainstream for level 05.
It makes for exciting times though.