The future of the automotive industry can be compared to rubber bands that come in an abundance of sizes and strengths. Even something as simple as a little ring of rubber has an enormous range of diversity. Something as complicated as the automotive industry has considerably more and the future of driving (and self-driving) will reveal an increasingly diverse and niche-driven industry.
This was demonstrated by Ford’s announcement in 2016 to put a self-driving fleet of cars on the road by 2021. The company wants to offer a car service, much like Uber (and recalling GM’s partnership with Lyft), where passengers can get a car to pick them up. They are already planning cars that will not have a steering wheel – cars that will not need any human involvement whatsoever. Instead of gradually moving towards fully autonomous cars, they seem to be willing to wait until they can offer a car with Level-4 autonomous features. Other automotive companies may soon face a similar choice – what level and type of autonomous features will they offer their customers?
The Five Levels of Automated Driving and What They Mean
As determined by the Society of Automotive Engineers(SAE), “The 5 Levels of Automated Driving” is a classification system that not only maps out the expected technological progress of self-driving cars but shows how autonomous vehicles can diversify the industry. The system categorizes different types of autonomous features, allowing automotive and technology companies (a distinction that is increasingly blurred) to choose between multiple business models.
There are four categories that the SAE looks at to determine a vehicle’s level of autonomy:
- Execution of Steering and Acceleration/Deceleration
- Monitoring of Driving Environment (basically, whose job it is to pay attention to the road)
- Fallback Performance of Dynamic Driving Tasks (responding to events)
- Driving Modes (total capabilities)
These levels only account for technical capabilities and do not imply a “better/worse” scenario, either in terms of progress or how each option will fare on the market. It is up to the OEMs to figure out which of the options customers will be most interested in as outlined below for the five levels of autonomy.
Level One: At this level, the car has some autonomous execution capabilities. The auto industry is already at level one and using early technology to make drivers more comfortable with the idea of autonomous vehicles, the last few years have seen the introduction of automated parallel parking and automatic braking. The actual driving, however, is still done by humans. Many automotive companies are focused on this level of technology, continuing to improve it in new models (and in older models via over-the-air software updates), with the end goal of helping customers realize that their cars are not static and that autonomous technology is safe.
Level Two: Level two is a significant step forward. Here, the vast majority of execution maneuvers are done by the driving system, which will handle the acceleration, braking and steering functions of the car. However, the driver must maintain control and continuously monitor the environment. Tesla has already started introducing level two cars which are significantly safer than human drivers but not yet foolproof. Level two vehicles are geared toward early adopters and have a strong foothold in the market, there will always be eager people to try out the latest technology. Level two cars will also be ideal for people who want to maintain some control as we transition to full automation, making this model unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Level Three: This is the great leap forward, where cars become qualitatively different. Here, the system monitors driving conditions and alerts the human driver only if intervention is needed. Level three allows for more relaxation and less alertness, the market for these vehicles seems poised to pick up after level two cars have paved the way. Level three vehicles are likely to be more expensive as they will have to be smart enough to navigate without much driver interference at a point in time when most of the other cars will only be semi-autonomous at best. These will be luxury vehicles and will have to be designed not just for functionality but also for beauty and aesthetic symbolism.
Level Four: At this level, cars are fully autonomous. The system will handle all fallbacks and will not require any driver intervention. Indeed, intervention might not even be possible (remember that Ford is reportedly designing their cars without steering wheels). At this point, the car is basically an extension of the home or office. The only catch is that these vehicles, only designed for specific environments, will not be able to just drive anywhere and will be mostly limited to urban or suburban driving. This is where Ford and its competitors enter the scene, their fleets of self-driving, on-demand cars are intended for urban use and will change the ownership model entirely, making level four cars particularly attractive for people who want to opt out of buying a vehicle.
Level Five: Fully autonomous and ready to go anywhere and “anywhere” refers to the highways and byways of the world that would be no longer out of reach. This is the last level of autonomous vehicles, for example, a car that can be used on a 500-mile road trip. Eventually, you might be able to call a car to take you to Yosemite, but long-distance driving is likely to be the domain of level three vehicles (which allow fallback control) and level five vehicles for quite some time. With such a range of options, automotive companies need to embrace diversity in their offerings. There will be drivers looking for level five cars (where not even the lack of a driver license should be an obstacle to “drive”) while some would still want level three cars (and others who will stick with level one for as long as they can).
The growth of the autonomous vehicle is like an evolutionary tree with many overlapping and intertwining branches. Just as Heidelbergensis, Neandertals, and Homo Sapiens may have passed each other on some distant plain, the various levels of self-driving cars will share the road in the near future. Automotive companies can diversify to include all, most, or just a couple of autonomous features, catering to many kinds of drivers and systems. They can also constantly update their software as the industry continues to evolve and grow.
As the auto industry is changed by technological and economic currents, OEMs and Tier-1 manufacturers will need to partner with technological specialists to thrive in the era of the software defined car. Movimento’s expertise is rooted in our background as an automotive company. This has allowed us to create the technological platform that underpins the future of the software driven and self-driven car. Connect with us today to learn more about how we can work together.