The Future With Level 5 Autonomous Cars
Have you ever wondered about a future where fully autonomous cars dominate the roads, and how this will impact your life? How will the way we live, work, interact socially, and care for the needy, disabled and elderly change when we expect vehicles to be able to drive themselves safely from point to point and be beckoned at any time? Machines performing intelligent actions without human supervision is one of the long-time dreams for AI and is rapidly becoming closer to reality.
Understanding the levels of vehicle autonomy
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classify six levels of capability for autonomous cars, starting from completely human operated vehicles at Level 0 to fully autonomous vehicles at Level 5. Companies such as Tesla, Ford, Toyota, Uber, Volvo, and others have been working very heavily to reach the ultimate goal of Level 5 autonomous vehicle operation. Self-driving cars are becoming closer and closer to becoming a reality.
But, how do we judge the quality and the real autonomous nature of a car? The six levels of vehicle autonomy help determine autonomous vehicle capabilities. At the lowest levels of the spectrum, Level 0 cars have no autonomous features. This means that the driver must be fully in control of the vehicle while driving and the driver is fully piloting without any autonomous machine features. More than 80% of the vehicles on the road today are still at level 0 autonomy.
At Level 1 autonomy, vehicles can perform just one autonomous task at a time. These cars mostly feature autonomous safety-oriented features, such as automatic lane keeping or adaptive cruise control for safety. The driver still needs to be fully cognizant and in control of the driving. Many newer cars on the road today have level 1 autonomous features, and what was once perceived to be an optional product offering is rapidly becoming standard.
At Level 2 autonomy, vehicles can perform two autonomous tasks at a time. These level 2 cars can steer and lane-keep, or auto-brake and operative adaptive cruise control. A good example of a level 2 autonomous car is Tesla’s Autopilot. However at Level 2, just like levels 0 and 1, the driver must be in control during travel in the vehicle.
At Level 3 autonomy, the vehicle provides “conditional autonomy.” That means that the vehicle can only be self-driving mode in certain conditions. These conditions are usually good weather and the vehicle also needs to be in a geo-fenced area. A great example of a level 3 autonomous car, is the Audi A8. While Tesla claims that AutoPilot exists at Level 3, it is actually somewhere between Levels 2 and 3 of capability depending on what is enabled in the vehicle. Tesla’s Autopilot falls somewhere between Levels 2 and 3 and Cadillac Super Cruise operates at Level 2
Level 4 autonomy offers a vehicle that is fully autonomous, but only in certain conditions. A level 4 can only handle certain speeds and certain terrain. The driver does not need to be fully in control during travel but must take over suddenly when the vehicle is no longer able to handle a situation. No commercially available level 4 vehicles exist in the market.
At the ultimate level of autonomy, Level 5 vehicles are completely self-driving and autonomous. The driver does not have to be in control at all during travel, and this vehicle can handle any road condition, type of weather, and no longer bound to geo-fenced locations. A level 5 vehicle will also have emergency features, and safety protocols. A level 5 vehicle is true autonomy and will be able to safely deliver someone to point A to point B. No commercial production of a level 5 vehicle exists, but companies such as Zoox, Google’s Waymo, and many others are working towards this goal.
It’s no surprise that a world with level 5 autonomous vehicles will impact humanity and society in many ways -- some we can image and some we can only currently dream about. One change is the look and design of cars would have to optimized for human delivery. There would be no need for certain car parts such as a joystick, a steering wheel, pedals which opens up retail space within the car’s interior. Driver’s license would no longer be needed. Children and elderly could safely get themselves places, and busy workers could use their commute in a car to catch up on emails on their way to the office.
Just like with all transformational technologies, certain jobs and businesses will be transformed, changed, or possibly made extinct. Just like traditional retailers falling to the wayside in the face of e-commerce, or video rental establishments dying in favor of online streaming, companies that are based on humans driving vehicles need to transform and change to stay relevant. For example, with self driving cars the concept of the rental car as we currently know it will change. Local gas stations will no longer need to service the thousands of cars they currently do. There would be no need for auto insurance or at least in its current form. Roads will be safer, less congested, and no longer will people need to fight for parking spots in congested areas. Houses won’t be in need of garages, and spaces dedicated to parking can be reallocated for other uses.
Well-publicized accidents and missteps show that even at this limited autonomy level, AI systems struggle in application. While the ultimate goal of self-driving vehicles is one in which humans are solely passengers, the reality of the situation is that we’re moving from a world where people have complete control of their vehicle to ones where they have none at all. The problem is when we’re operating in the middle ground — vehicles having some of the control, and humans still needed for some control. The main issue is that it’s psychologically very difficult to not pay attention to something until you absolutely need to pay attention to avoid a fatal outcome. However, as AI systems continue to evolve and become even more advanced, society will start to see fully autonomous systems operating on our streets.