Did you know what are the five levels of autonomous cars?

Did you know what are the five levels of autonomous cars?


The autonomous car market is booming and in the coming years, people are hopeful that self-driving vehicles will provide relief from traffic congestion, parking problems and all other woes of driving in crowded cities. The technological dimension will reorient the car industry and change it forever. Assorted autonomous cars of different sizes and with different specifications would be blaring horns in our vicinity in the near future.

But have you ever wondered about the classification of autonomous cars?

Autonomous cars are also commonly referred to as self-driving cars, but, technically speaking, not all autonomous cars are fully self-driving and the degree of autonomous driving depends on the level and extent of automatic functionality. Let’s have a look at the five levels of autonomous cars.

Image Courtesy: Business Insider

Level 0: It would actually be a misnomer to club level zero cars as autonomous. In Level 0, the driver has to sit behind the steering wheel with his legs on the clutch plates and the brakes. Yes, no prize for guessing that Level 0 refers to the conventional cars

Level 1: In Level one, the primary operator is still the driver, who will be responsible for everything from switching gears to accelerating, but the vehicle might assist in a few functions. For instance, there are certain cars that have an excellent braking system and minimal effort is required to apply the brakes when another car is very near.

Level 2: Most automakers are manufacturing vehicles at this level, where the vehicle can assist with steering or acceleration functions and assist the driver in sharing responsibilities. However, the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle and is primarily responsible for most safety-related functions and monitoring.

five levels of autonomous cars
Tesla Autopilot. Image Courtesy: Financial Tribune

An example of Level 2 autonomy is Tesla’s Autopilot. This model includes technologies like Traffic Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer with lane change, enabling automatic steering on roads but with speed restrictions.

Image Courtesy: SAE International

Level 3: In the truest sense of the term, it is at Level 3 when cars should be prefixed with autonomous. In Level 3, vehicle monitors and controls itself using advanced sensors, algorithms, and LiDAR. But there is still a need for human-driver in the worst case scenario or emergency, or to apply brakes or halt the car. Most level 3 cars have a speed limit that requires no human intervention, but beyond that, the driver has to be alert. Audi plans to launch Level 3 autonomous cars this year.

five levels of autonomous cars
Audi A8. Image Courtesy: Audi Ireland

Audi A8 was the first car that had Level 3 autonomy. Just by pressing a button, the A8′s AI Traffic Jam Pilot takes care of ignition, steering control, acceleration and braking in slow-moving traffic at up to 60km/h on roads. When the speed increases, the driver has to take control.

Level 4: At Levels 4, the car is capable of steering, braking, accelerating, decelerating, monitoring the vehicle and external environment as well as responding to events in real-time and determining when to change lanes, turn, and use signals. In this level, the autonomous driving system would apprise the driver when conditions are safe, and only then the driver would switch the vehicle into this mode. Level 4 cars cannot automatically predict traffic jams or speed up on highways. Google/Waymo self-driving cars fall into level 4.

Level 5: Level 5 is 100% autonomy that requires no human interference or intervention while driving. The car can take all the decisions itself and there is no need for pedals, brakes, or a steering wheel, as the autonomous vehicle system controls all tasks, including monitoring of the environment and identification of driving conditions like traffic jams.

five levels of autonomous cars
Volkswagen Group SeDriC Level 5 concept car. Image Courtesy: Get Off Road

Only a selected few car companies like Tesla have been able to successfully test Level 5 cars. BMW, Ford, and Honda are expected to develop fully autonomous cars by 2021. 

Level 5 also includes concept cars like Volkswagen Group SeDriC and the Audi AIcon concept.