Autonomous Cars – How Much Longer?

If you are thinking your kids will not need to learn how to drive, think again.  This short summary of where automated cars are at now and how long it will take until vehicles are fully automated will help you determine if you will have to go to their 1st DMV appointment.  If you were to ask average people today if there are self-driving cars already on the road, 23% of them would say yes.  Although there are some automated features on vehicles today, they are no cars that are fully autonomous.  Surprisingly experts say that we are a few decades from automobiles without a steering wheel, requiring at least some driving input from passengers (see article).

It is helpful to know the established levels of autonomous driving cars for this discussion.  Five levels have been established;

Level 1: Driver Assistance – This allows a car to steer or brake autonomously for the driver, but not at the same time, requiring the driver’s full attention.

Level 2: Partial Automation – As in level 1, the vehicle can steer or brake, but in contrast level 2 allows the vehicle to do those simultaneously, still requiring the driver’s full attention.

Level 3: Conditional Automation – This level enables a vehicle to handle most aspects of driving, allowing the driver to take their eyes off the road temporarily.

Level 4: High Automation – The vehicle takes full control, under the right conditions, so the driver can focus on other tasks. The steering wheel and other controls are present for when the conditions are not ideal for autonomous driving.

Level 5: Full Automation – The car takes full control without any assistance from the passenger. There is no need for a steering wheel or any other driving controls.

It is believed that current technology has brought us to a level somewhere between 2 and 3, but some think there are cars that meet level 4.

What is it that is holding us back from attaining a fully automated vehicle?

  • Our roadways are not ready yet
    1. The proper type and amount of road signs necessary for cars to utilize
    2. Wireless connections to the grid would be helpful for cars to determine the traffic infrastructure
    3. Lane and road markings are not up to par in many locations
    4. Pot holes/obstacles
  • Cars need to communicate with each other
    • This is currently in development and being tested
  • Governments must make decisions and establish guidelines
    1. Who is liable when an automated vehicle causes and accident
    2. How to navigate the roads while traditional non-automated cars exist
    3. The economic pushback that is inevitable from hired drivers (trucking, taxis)
    4. What are the appropriate weather conditions

A timeline for fully automated cars is so difficult to predict.  Some optimists believe we will be at level 5 in just a few years, but many engineers involved in the effort seem to think that we will achieve level 4 in this decade, but level 5 is decades away.

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