weekly blog--one for the ages
MIT’s AgeLab sponsored a forum yesterday on the state of automated driving. Some elements are already available such as systems for self-parking, adaptive cruise control and automatic braking. The end game is to develop a self-driving (autonomous) car that is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the operator in an occupied or unoccupied vehicle will provide destination or navigation input, but not control movement.
Getting all vehicles on the road to communicate with each other is at the heart of making self-driving cars sustainable, and when you factor in state and federal regulations, it could take at least 30 years to achieve this goal. Several states, including Nevada, California and Florida have enacted legislation that expressly permits operation of autonomous vehicles under certain conditions. Car fleets with less than 2,500 vehicles can often get around many of these regulations, so you will most likely experience the self-driving future in robot-like taxis and other shared vehicles. You are also most likely to see self-driving regulations and policies modeled after those currently used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Regardless, the top priority is to ensure that self-driving vehicles and their occupants are safe, and often overlooked in the conversation is the need to improve driver education.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines vehicle automation in five levels. Some car-makers are skipping over the semi-self autonomy levels that add features and cede human control over time to focus on the ultimate challenge of producing a full, self-driving automated vehicle.
NHTSA's 5 LEVELS
Level 0, No-Automation: The driver is in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls – brake, steering, throttle, and motive power – at all times.
Level 1, Function-specific Automation: Automation at this level involves one or more specific control functions. Examples include electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, where the vehicle automatically assists with braking to enable the driver to regain control of the vehicle or stop faster than possible by acting alone.
Level 2, Combined Function Automation: This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions. An example of combined functions enabling a Level 2 system is adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centering.
Level 3, Limited Self-Driving Automation: Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation.
Level 4, Full Self-Driving Automation: The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.