The self-driving car is a car that can perform the same tasks as the driver. There are different levels of automation, ranging from level 0 (with the driver having to take care of every aspect of driving, even when assistance systems are in place) to level 5 (with no human intervention). 


Self-driving cars represent a big bet for car manufacturers: in the coming years, these vehicles will transform the concept of mobility to eliminate all driver interaction. Today we are not too far from this scenario, but several regulatory difficulties still need to be overcome, and the infrastructure necessary to spread self-driving cars will need to undergo cardinal developments to allow self-driving cars to become an integral part of our mobility life.


What are self-driving cars?


Self-driving cars are vehicles that can drive on the road by themselves, without human intervention by the driver. A self-driving car represents an innovative technology based on automated driving systems, a series of sensors installed in the car and smart city infrastructure.


Today, there are already cars that can drive independently, but they still lack adequate regulations and support for ultra-fast connections. At the moment, we can only talk about assisted driving vehicles, where the car makes some autonomous decisions, but the control remains in the hands of the driver.


However, ADAS systems (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) are already changing the way we drive, helping us to reduce accidents and improve operating performance. An actual self-driving car is the next innovation so that in the future, we will be able to use vehicles without even using a steering wheel.


Autonomous driving: levels of autonomous driving


In the field of self-driving cars, there are six levels of autonomous driving, although only the last two are the ultimate evolution of this technology. At the same time, it is essential to understand the various steps, to understand how these systems work and where we are today.


The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) created this globally accepted classification to classify and identify the degrees of vehicle automation. The SAE scale (SAE J3016) is an essential reference used by all operators in the sector to orient themselves in this field.


Level 0 - no automation

Old cars can be considered level 0 for autonomous driving systems. These models are equipped with sensors and systems that inform the driver about possible failures and malfunctions of the car or devices that provide modest assistance to the driver.


The car provides warnings.

Momentary assistance can be received.

Example: automatic emergency braking or blind-spot warning.


Level 1 - assisted driving

In the first level are assisted driving cars, where the driver is supported by systems that warn him of certain dangers and help him to improve safety. These include collision avoidance devices, speed governors such as cruise control, and distance detectors for other vehicles.


The devices can brake or accelerate the vehicle.

Superior and active support is provided to the driver.

Example: adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping.


Level 2 - partial automation

With level 2, we can start talking about self-driving cars, although they are still vehicles with partial automation. Unlike level 1, these cars can intervene actively, for example, by managing the steering or braking automatically if an emergency is detected.


The devices can brake and accelerate the car.

The car actively supports the driver.

Example: adaptive cruise control integrated with lane-keeping.


Level 3 - high automation

When entering level 3, self-driving cars finally become a concrete reality, although the active participation of the driver is still required. Cars can drive themselves under certain conditions, and they also monitor the vehicle and the traffic, so if the driver fails to make the correct manoeuvre, the car does it for him.


The vehicle can drive itself under certain conditions.

In the absence of these requirements, driver intervention is required.

Example: Traffic Jam system for autonomous driving in traffic.


Level 4 - complete driving automation

Level 4 self-driving cars are cars that can drive themselves under specific requirements and conditions, such as robot taxis without steering wheels or pedals. In the event of a malfunction, however, the driver must intervene, regaining control of the vehicle for safety reasons, or the car stops safely on its own.


The vehicle is capable of driving itself under certain conditions.

In the absence of these requirements, driver intervention is required.

Example: driverless taxis or vehicles without steering wheels.


Level 5 - total automation

Compared to previous technologies, level 5 does not require a steering wheel or pedals in the car. The autonomous vehicle does everything independently, so you don't even need to know how to drive. In this case, each person is a passenger, so all you have to do is indicate your destination and enjoy the ride.


The car can drive itself in all conditions.

No driver intervention is required.

Example: Level 4 functionality without operational restrictions.


How does the automatic pilot work?

Autonomous driving technology is based on autopilot: software that controls the car through sensors. The system can communicate with other vehicles and the road infrastructure, communicating in real-time with traffic lights, tunnels and web platforms that inform the programme about traffic conditions and possible accidents. 


Depending on the level of autonomous driving, the autopilot can assist the driver or drive the car itself, becoming increasingly precise thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. It uses radar systems, GPS trackers and ultrasonic sensors to monitor space, with the ability to detect any obstacle such as cars, trucks, motorbikes, pedestrians and cyclists.


Self-driving cars: the advantages of autonomous driving

Autonomous cars represent an efficient solution to make car travel less dangerous. Existing systems have already made it possible to reduce risks considerably, optimising response times and increasing road safety.


Just think of the support of technologies such as blind-spot detection and distance monitoring from other vehicles. At the same time, Level 3, 4 and 5 cars will allow you to make the most of your time in the car, taking advantage of the journey to work, read or even get some sleep and rest.


Another advantage of self-driving cars is that they can reduce traffic congestion by intelligently planning traffic flow, thanks to the connection between vehicles and infrastructure. In addition, they will allow everyone to be independent when travelling, including people with disabilities and those without a driving licence.

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Silvia Iacovcich 09/05/22