As technology advances, and manufacturers are able to apply these developments to their products, cars are beginning to get easier to drive thanks to the level of autonomy they provide. And of these autonomous traits, self-driving is perhaps the one that will reshape the way we drive in the future the most. 


A self-driving car is a car that can perform a varied number of tasks that the driver can. 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). 


In the coming years, these vehicles will look to transform the concept of ‘no-hands driving’ to provide minimum driver interaction. Today, we are not too far from this scenario, but several regulatory difficulties still need to be overcome. For instance, the infrastructure necessary to popularise self-driving technology will need to undergo cardinal developments to allow self-driving cars to become an integral part of our society.


So, what exactly 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 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 big step so that, in the future, we will be able to drive cars without even turning the 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 involved, how these systems work and where we are today.


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


Level 0 - no automation


Classic 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 level 1 of autonomous driving are assisted driving cars, where the driver is supported by systems that warn them of certain dangers to help them to improve safety. These include collision avoidance devices, speed governors such as cruise control and distance detectors for other vehicles.


- The assistance can both apply the brakes and accelerate the car

- 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 assistance can both apply the brakes 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 palpable reality - although the active participation of the driver is still required. Cars can drive themselves under certain conditions, and they also monitor the car and the traffic. So, if the driver fails to make the correct manoeuvre, the car does it for them.


- The car 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 car. 


- The car 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 buckle up for 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; interacting 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 independent 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.


Conclusion on self-driving cars


Autonomous driving represents an efficient solution to make the experience of driving a lot less work. 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, enabling you to rest, or enjoy some other activities such as reading. 


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.


So, the advantages posed by the development of autonomous cars is plain for all to see, but while the current intelligence of self-driving cars is impressive, manufacturers and engineers will look to take us up to the next level in the coming years. The future looks relaxing. 


That was Karfu’s guide on autonomous driving. Continue the conversation in the comment section below - we’d love to hear from you!

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Shafiq Abidin 09/09/22