Awful lot of talk these days about level 4 self driving.
What’s the big deal about Level 4?
Just one of six levels were about to find out why it’s such a watershed moment in the future of self driving cars.
Level 4, as I mentioned, is one of a continuum from level 0 to level 5 for a total of 6 levels of autonomy.
They are descriptions or criteria for the degree to which a car can drive itself, or at least assist you in driving.
So each one is progressively more advanced than the one before it.
Of course, the name level acts tells you basically nothing about what each level does.
You’ve got to know the decoding, the Society of Automotive Engineers, kind of.
Overseas the book on this one and they recently re Imagine and published a new, I think clearer description of what the levels mean.
So let’s build our way to level 4, starting with level 0, Level 0 momentary warnings or occasional assistance.
These are things that jump in just occasionally to help you out as an assist.
For example, you get a beat from a blind spot warning system or a quick little nudge.
From your Lane drift system.
If you’re getting out of your Lane, maybe a quick step on the brakes from automatic emergency breaking.
If you’re a closing on someone too fast, all of these are considered level 0. Notice that these were kind of unimaginable even 15 years ago, so 0 doesn’t mean nothing.
Zero is just the basic level of driver assistance without persistence, and you are still completely in charge level one.
This is persistent assistance.
So take the idea of level 0, but have those systems working more constantly.
That would be let’s say adaptive cruise control.
It’s constantly maintaining your speed and distance to the car ahead of you.
That is a Level 1 driver aid.
Or maybe you’ve got Lane tracing or Lane centering that constantly keeps you in your Lane as you drive down the freeway.
You’re still driving, but it’s constantly assisting you.
That is a classic level one scenario.
Notice these are working singley that is also a key part of the level one definition.
Level 2, two or more systems working together.
So if you have adaptive cruise control working all the time and you’ve got that Lane tracing working all the time, they’re both persistent an they’re simultaneous.
Now you’re in level 2 self driving scenario.
This is a really big deal if you get into a car that can do this, it has more than one system running at once.
You start to get a little taste of what it’s like to hand off the driving task to a car.
Note that you are always driving in Level 2 though.
You may get a foreshadowing of what self driving is, but you are not authorized to back away from the driving task.
It’s an interesting middle ground as we get more Tord advanced modes of assistance that start to feel like autonomy Level 3. This is limited self driving.
This is a key break point.
All the levels.
Up until now you’re driving all the time, period, no discussion.
Now with Level 3 there are little snippets.
Moments of time where you actually aren’t driving, but you’re fully on duty, overseeing and monitoring the driving.
It gets into kind of a sticky area.
For example Cadillac super cruise.
It is limited conditional self driving because it works on certain roads that are highly mapped within its system.
When you’ve got a cellular data connection, when you’ve got a GPS signal coming in, when the cameras are not impeded by whether or anything else that blocks the car’s ability to look at the road.
If all those conditions are met, it can do some or a large part of your freeway drive, but not the other parts.
Another example, Audis traffic jam assistant.
It goes the other way.
It takes over in the stop and go area when you’re on roads where it has a clearview of the car ahead and its sensors are all happy, it will take over all that nibbling.
Stop and go.
That’s so annoying at low speeds, but it doesn’t do freeway.
That is a key example of limited self driving in certain conditions when all of the criteria the system needs are met.
Basic, but it is your first taste of not having to drive the car.
Level 4 This is the real deal.
This is what brought us here today, right?
What’s the big deal about Level 4?
Level 4 can actually envision cars that have no steering wheel or pedals.
For example, Google’s little pod cards that we saw a few years ago.
That was the vision of Level 4. You couldn’t drive the car.
There were no controls to allow that.
Or as of our taping today, in late October 2020, GM’s cruise automation says there close to getting a permit to running Level 4 taxis in San Francisco.
Vehicles that will show up without even having a supervisory or backup driver on board.
You get in and that’s it.
It’s you and the machine, so it’s a really big deal to get to level 4. Another key about Level 4 is that it will never hand the driving task back to a human again.
The car may not even have a steering wheel, so how could it?
This gets around a key issue that technologists and ethicist have struggled with in the short history of autonomy, which is called the handoff problem.
With Level 3 you have a car that may say you know what.
I can’t do the driving anymore.
I gotta throw it back to you.
That can lead to some sticky situations, because that’s usually going to happen when the going gets dicey with level 4 that will never happen, but as a trade off the car will never even commence a trip unless it knows the entire thing is within its abilities.
In terms of the route, the weather, etc.
So that’s a key definition around level 4. Is that it really moves us to what we’ve been talking about for the last 10 years?
Self driving cars?
Now The Dirty little secret about level 4 is that it’s late.
A number of carmakers said we’d have it by 2021 or 2022, which is essentially tomorrow afternoon in the car business.
It’s not coming that soon.
In a nutshell, it’s just really hard.
Level 5 The real deal.
Someday that’s the key difference between level 5 and four is one of condition Level 5 can do it.
Level 4 does, but with different conditions.
Basically no condition all the time.
Any trip anywhere door to door.
That’s why it’s considered still a very distant idea.
However, Elon Musk Tesla recently said that some Tesla owners may get a taste of level 5 in cars as soon as late 2020.
Teslas always had its own dictionary when it comes to these things, so I’m not entirely sure what they mean by that.
Its key to note that we do not yet have a really firm framework.
That car makers, regulators and car buyers can all look at and say aah, level X means this.
It’s a little bit mired down in marketing copy.
Every carmaker has their own brand name for level.
This or level that that’s a confusing situation if you’re dealing with things like MPG or performance.
But it’s a dangerous situation when you’re dealing with something that has to be clearly understood, like levels of autonomy.
I’m a big favor of two things.
One, we establish these levels and everyone uses them the same way, and two we give them better names than level X.