Put simply it’s “a vehicle that can assist in, or control driving functions to aid the driver or in some circumstances replace the driver altogether.”
So, an autonomous vehicle isn’t necessarily driverless, but includes an element of technology to make driving easier. In fact, there are five levels of automation;
Level 0 – No Automation: The driver is in control of all functions but may receive warning alerts.
Level 1 – Driver assistance. The driver is still in control, but a specific function can by carried out by the vehicle, such as radar cruise control or adaptive steering.
Level 2 – Partial Automation: Here the automated system can take control of acceleration, braking and steering. While this may suggest a “hands off” option, this is not encouraged, and some systems still require the driver to hold the steering wheel to confirm they are able to immediately intervene if necessary.
Level 3 – Conditional Automation: This is the first level that allows the driver to take their eyes off the road. The vehicle systems can control the vehicle in situations that require an immediate response – such as emergency braking. Limitations to its use will still apply.
Level 4 – High Automation: Similar to level 3, but here the driver is not required to control any element of safety. The automated systems are aware of the vehicles environment and can act accordingly, even if the driver does not immediately respond.
Level 5 – Full Automation: The only true “driverless” level. The vehicle is expected to perform in the same way as a human being in all driving environments. Whenever I think of this it conjures up memories of the Johnny Cab in the film Total Recall!
Where are we right now?
Many leading vehicle manufacturers are already claiming they are ready with Level 3 Conditional Automation models with many miles of initial testing under their belts. However, these vehicles are not legal to be used on roads as yet, requiring more ‘real world’ testing and relevant legislation regarding sale, use and limitations working through before they become commonplace. Level 5 Full Automation vehicles are being tested widely across the world with as many variations as there are vehicle types.
Driver aids and automation we are all using today
You may not even realise how many aids we use on a daily basis, so here are a few reminders – cruise control, power steering, fly by wire acceleration, ABS, Airbags (hope not to use these too often!) seatbelt pre- tensioners, radar/laser guided cruise control, lane assistance, road sign recognition and satellite navigation are all commonplace.
To what level of automation the haulage industry will ultimately adopt is still a matter of debate. One of the current buzz topics is ‘Truck Platooning’ – this is when trucks drive close behind one another to utilise the road better and save time, fuel and emissions. The distance between the trucks is controlled through radar, GPS and Wi-Fi. Driving closer together reduces drag and results in better fuel economy. Watch this space!