Full Throttle: A Look into the Autonomous Vehicle Industry     

According to driverlessguru.com, 100,000 “robotaxi” (self-driving) rides were provided by Lyft through February 2020. Out of these rides, 98% of the passengers rated their ride a five out of five. This statistic coupled with an increase in AI technology capabilities provides a platform for the autonomous vehicle industry to go the distance.  

Levels of Automation  

In the world of autonomous vehicles, there are five different levels of automation:   

  • Level 0 No Automation: In this level, cars are for the most part under human control. Cars still contain basic modern features such as: automatic emergency breaking, cruise control, and blind spot warnings.  
  •  Level 1 Driver Automation: Most modern cars are built within this level of automation. Although the human is still in control, the car has the ability to utilize “speed control”. The main feature at this level is automatic cruise control (ACC). While your car is in cruise control, ACC will slow down the speed of the car when traffic is approaching and speed up when the traffic subsides.  
  • Level 2 Partial Automation: Although the driver is responsible for operating the vehicle safely, the car is able to control its steering, breaking, and acceleration under specific circumstances. Examples of partial automation include Tesla Autopilot and the Cadillac Super Cruise system.  
  • Level 3  Conditional Automation: At this level, the vehicles can sense their environment at a very basic level (ie: cars are moving in the same direction and no pedestrians). Without the driver, the cars can control the braking, steering and speed. However, the driver will still need to be present and take over when the environment becomes more complex. An example of a car with these capabilities is the Audi A8 Sedan which will include a Traffic Jam pilot.  
  • Level 4  High Automation: Just like in level 3, vehicles that have this classification can control steering, braking and speed, and can also handle more complex environments. These cars can go on a journey without having any driver intervention. What prevents them from being classified in the next level is their constraints iethe fact that   they may have to be restrained to a certain area and can only reach a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour. Although there are no level 4 cars available to consumers, larger companies such as NAVYA, Magna, and Volvo are working to produce this level of technology in the ride-sharing and public transportation sectors.
  • Level 5  Full Automation:  As the name suggests, a Level 5 vehicle will be completely void of a driver or any human control. These vehicles will be free to go into any area at any speed without a driver, steering wheel or braking and acceleration pedals.  

 Case Study: Waymo 

In 2009, Google started their self-driving car journey. During the next six years, Google’s self-driving technology was implemented into a range of vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450h where these cars drove over 300,000 miles. Shortly after Google was taken over by Alphabet, the self-driving car project was renamed Waymo. Utilizing laser beam and radar technology, Waymo is a level 4 autonomous vehicle that requires no human control. Although Waymo vehicles have a steering wheel, there is no presence of a human-being in the driver’s seat.  

Waymo operates off of three-dimensional maps that collect a wide-range of information including the location of traffic lights, the changing of traffic lights, lane maker location, crosswalks, and stop signals. The vehicles also have the ability to sense when pedestrians are near, road work is ahead, and any other obstructions that may be in the road. With Waymo’s predictive technology, the car can sense what is happening up to 0.2 kilometers away.  

Currently Waymo technology is being piloted in cities in the West of the United States including: Phoenix, Arizona, Austin, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Francisco, California. The company is aiming to offer two services. Waymo One is a ride-sharing service where a passenger can order a Waymo car to pick them up and take them to their destination. Waymo Via will implement the sensor technology into Class 8 trucks and transport good across the country.  

The Distance of Autonomous Vehicles  

Besides Waymo, many other companies are venturing into the autonomous space whether it be at the third, fourth, or fifth level. General Motor’s (GM) autonomous sector “Cruise” is working to create a level 5 vehicle without a driver’s seat or any pedals.  

 Nissan is working to release the Nissan ARIYA with ProPILOT 2.0 technology which will be able to measure gaps between cars and recognize pedestrians. Additionally, ProPILOT technology can assist the driver in traffic jams and tougher driving situations. With the rise of technological capabilities, the automotive sector is predicted to experience a large shift.  

Soon we may be in a world where driving will be something less common. 


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