Self driving cars have been a regular staple of science fiction books and films, and a goal for several car manufacturers, particularly Tesla.
There are several levels attributed to the progress manufacturers strive to attain on the journey to driverless cars. At present Tesla has achieved a Level 2 with their Autopilot driver assistance software. This is where a car can keep itself in its lane, adjust speed according to the car in front, as well as make lane changes. But, a driver still needs to be present and is still required to monitor the road conditions and take control when required. Level 2 is merely the car technology assisting the driver, but not taking over from the driver.
Level 3 is the same as level 2, with the driver still present to take over if required, but where the driver is not required to monitor the road, allowing them to use the time for other things – working, reading, watching TV. Where Level 2 is technology assisting, Level 3 is human assisting. Level 4 detaches the human altogether with the vehicle in complete control, allowing the occupants to sleep should they wish.
Level 4 driving automation is still a long way off, but for the first time Mercedes-Benz has achieved a level 3 state.
“It is a very proud moment for everyone to continue this leadership and celebrate this monumental achievement as the first automotive company to be certified for Level 3 conditionally automated driving in the US market,” said Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Dimitris Psillakis.
Navada is the first state to approve the use of these Level 3 vehicles, but only up to a maximum of 40mph. It’s likely that other states will approve the vehicles too, and like a lot of technological advancements, once one company has achieved Level 3, other manufacturers will quickly attain the same improvement. Which then begs the question – how long will it be before Level 4 is achieved and the future of travel changes forever?
But, there are some who doubt that Level 4, or even a safe level 2 and 3, can truly be achieved.
Anthony Levandowski, cofounder of Google’s self-driving division, believes little progress has actually been made in the last twenty years and at a cost of $100 billion. Whilst the glorified tech demos show monitors, symbols, and geometrical shapes to show awareness of the cars surroundings, they don’t show the inconsistency, and unpredictable changes in the surroundings. You don’t have to search for long on the internet to find videos of self driving cars causing accidents and injury, and the lawsuits that follow.