Autonomous driving: The most important developments of all levels

Autonomous driving: The most important developments of all levels

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A self-driving car – that sounds like a dream of the future, but the vision of autonomous driving has been around for a long time.

The first drive with an autonomous test vehicle from Continental took place in 1968, but with a guide wire on the road for orientation and with a different background. At that time, only the tires were to be tested and in 1968 nobody expected that autonomous driving would actually arrive in the car world at some point.

Autonomous driving – a definition

Even if the idea of ​​a self-driving car seems almost unreal to many drivers, the concept of autonomous driving has now arrived in the present. But what do we actually mean by “autonomous driving” and with what technical means is this even possible?

Autonomous driving means that the vehicle moves without human support, i.e. drives independently and acts according to the situation – and this is only possible through a perfect interaction of microprocessor systems, sensors and actuators.

Autonomous driving is without a doubt one of the major topics of the future. Since 2023, Germany will be the first EU country to allow highly automated driving up to a speed of 130 km/h – even if that is not yet possible. But the automotive industry is working flat out to ensure that the vision of the self-driving car will soon become reality.

From assisted driving to autonomous driving – in the automotive world there are five development stages, which we would like to present to you in detail.

Level 1: Assisted driving

Most vehicles have arrived at this level 1. Various assistance systems support the driver while driving, protect occupants in critical situations and ensure more comfort on the road. It is important to find out before you set off with the available assistance systems to become familiar and to see this only as a support – the responsibility still lies with the driver of the car.

Level 1 – the most important advances at a glance:

  • cruise control
    The cruise control maintains the specified speed so that it is not exceeded. The system switches off automatically when the driver accelerates or applies the brakes.
  • adaptive cruise control
    Adaptive cruise control detects the distance to the vehicle in front and brakes or accelerates the car accordingly, so that a safe distance is maintained at all times.
  • Lane Departure Warning
    With the help of a steering vibration, an optical or an acoustic signal, the lane departure warning system warns the driver if the vehicle unintentionally leaves the lane. The lane guidance assistant, which actively takes over the steering and keeps the vehicle in the middle of the lane, offers even more support.

Level 2: partially automated driving

While level 1 vehicles mainly have support systems integrated, level 2 vehicles are able to drive straight ahead on freeways for a short time and without the driver having to intervene and take over the steering, braking and acceleration processes. Level 2 is also known as “hands off”., because the driver must have his hands on the steering wheel for legal reasons, even though it is not technically necessary. The driver is only allowed to take his hands off the steering wheel for a short time in certain situations and when the car is in semi-automated driving mode – although the driver must be able to monitor the system at all times and intervene in the event of a malfunction.

Level 2 – the most important advances at a glance:

  • Autonomous lane keeping on a straight stretch is possible.
  • The vehicle takes over braking, steering and acceleration with the help of assistance systems.
  • At this stage, individual car manufacturers offer automatic parking that does not require human intervention.

Level 3: Highly automated driving

The highly automated driving on the 3rd level promises more relief when driving. Unlike in the 2nd level, the driver of a 3-level vehicle can divert his attention from the road and, for example, answer unread e-mails, read the newspaper or turn to the children in the back seat. It is important that the driver in Level 3 mode can always intervene in the driving process and take over the wheel if necessary.

Incidentally, the automobile manufacturer is responsible for a possible accident at this stage – unlike in the previous stages.

Even if many automobile manufacturers are already beyond level 3, highly automated driving harbors risks such as an unforeseeable dangerous situation that the system does not recognize in good time.

Good to know:

Germany sees itself as a pioneer – The Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport is working flat out on improved framework conditions and the law on automated driving came into force more than five years ago and enabled the use of Level 3 vehicles under the above conditions. According to the new legal situation, a legal framework was also created for level 4 vehicles, which provides for driving in defined operating areas in public road traffic in regular operation nationwide.

Level 3 – the most important advances at a glance:

  • The driver is allowed to turn away from the traffic for a short period of time and the vehicle independently takes over lane keeping, braking, steering and acceleration with the help of assistance systems.
  • At this stage, individual car manufacturers offer automatic parking that does not require human intervention.
  • Autonomous driving on motorways has been possible since 2023 at speeds of up to 130 km/h – However, no car can currently use the adjusted speed limit, because highly automated driving is not yet a reality.

Level 4: Fully automated driving

At this level, the vehicle drives completely independently on certain routes and the driver can withdraw from the driving process – even driving without occupants is possible. The various technical systems are coordinated in such a way that the vehicle reaches its destination independently, even over longer distances.

Driverless parking is also no longer a problem for Level 4 vehicles – the APCOA multi-storey car park P6 at Stuttgart Airport offers a practical example, which was created in a cooperation between BOSCH and the automobile manufacturer Mercedes-Benz. In the world’s first car park with a driverless parking system Drivers can have their vehicle parked without assistance and use the parking time for other purposes.

Level 4 – the most important advances at a glance:

  • The vehicle also drives longer distances independently.
  • The level 4 vehicle handles parking without human assistance.
  • Assistance systems are optimally coordinated and potentially dangerous situations are recognized by the vehicle.

Level 5: Autonomous driving

Level 5 is the last planned level. The vehicle can drive completely independently and carry out all necessary tasks without any human support. A driver is no longer necessary and even without passengers on board, the Level 5 vehicle can travel independently on the road.

Whether roundabouts, confusing intersections and with the right behavior at zebra crossings – the systems of the Level 5 vehicle are optimally coordinated so that the vehicle can react appropriately.

The engineers of the automobile manufacturers work intensively to ensure that we encounter level 5 vehicles on the road. In practice, however, there are only pilot projects such as that of a large supermarket chain in the USAwho use small test vehicles to transport groceries over short distances – without any drivers or passengers.

Level 5 – the most important advances at a glance:

  • The vehicle drives completely independently and takes over all driving functions.
  • All technical systems work together and can react optimally in road traffic even in difficult driving situations.
  • The Level 5 vehicle has no driver or passengers.

When is autonomous driving coming?

The 5 development stages illustrate what has already been achieved in terms of “autonomous driving” and give us a glimpse of the mobility of the future.

Even if a lot is technically possible and, for example, in Germany the state is promoting autonomous driving, in reality there is still a lot that needs to be clarified. For example, questions about liability in the event of an accident have only been rudimentarily clarified so far, the legal situation is very complex and, of course, the technology of an autonomous vehicle must be perfectly mature.

Ultimately, despite technical progress, it may still be some time before the self-driving car is actually part of the cityscape.

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