SAE reminds us fully autonomous cars don’t exist with its updated guidelines

The rapid advancement of driving automation seems to have caused a lot of misunderstanding on what really makes an autonomous vehicle.

For this reason, the engineering group SAE International in collaboration with ISO standards have updated the “SAE Levels of Driving Automation,” the industry’s most-cited reference for AV capabilities.

SAE’s taxonomy provides definitions for six levels of driving automation, ranging from no driving automation (Level 0) to full driving automation (Level 5).

The 2021 graph displaying the taxonomy hasn’t changed since the last update of 2019, but new terminology has been introduced to clarify misinterpreted concepts.

Credit: SAE International

What’s new

  • Level 1 and Level 2 driving automation systems have been named “Driver Support Systems”, as opposed to “Automated Driving Systems” used for Levels 3 to 5. This means that in the those two levels the human driver is the primary actor.
  • Levels 3 and 4 have a significant difference in fallback scenarios. At Level 3 the car will perform some automated functions, but will eventually hand control back to the driver. At Level 4, on the other hand, the vehicle will warn the user, but will, nevertheless, maintain control.
  • There are two new defined terms: “remote assistance” and “remote driving”, both remote support functions. A “remote assistant” guides the AV through situations in which it’s not able to make decisions on its own, while a “remote driver” takes over the whole driving process.

Things to keep in mind

Automated functions such as steering, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking aren’t considered to be driving automation. As the only offer momentary support, they don’t change or eliminate the role of the driver in performing part or all of the driving duties. 

Even at Levels 3 and 4, the automated driving features are engaged under limited conditions and won’t operate unless all conditions are met.

As we’re still at Level 2, it’s important to remember that the fully autonomous experience of Level 5 is still a long way off.

In the meantime, we should beware of the dangers of autonowashing.


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