What is an autonomous vehicle? Autonomy can be defined as one or more tasks normally performed by a human operator being performed without human input. There are many technologies that contribute to making a vehicle autonomous.
The Society of Automotive Engineers proposed a widely accepted classification system for autonomous vehicles, giving them a rating depending on the level autonomy displayed:
- Level 0: Automated system has no vehicle control, but may issue warnings.
- Level 1: Driver must be ready to take control at any time, e.g. Adaptive Cruise Control.
- Level 2: The driver is obliged to detect objects and events and respond if the automated system fails to respond properly. The automated system executes accelerating, braking, and steering. The automated system can deactivate immediately upon takeover by the driver, e.g. Tesla’s Autopilot.
- Level 3: Within known, limited environments (such as freeways), the driver can safely turn their attention away from driving tasks.
- Level 4: The automated system can control the vehicle in all but a few environments such as severe weather. The driver must enable the automated system only when it is safe to do so. When enabled, driver attention is not required.
- Level 5: Other than setting the destination and starting the system, no human intervention is required. The automatic system can drive to any location where it is legal to drive
At the moment several companies offer variations of semi-autonomous driving (Level 2) including Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo, and many more with Level 1 abilities, however current legislation doesn’t support the use of Level 3 or higher vehicles on roads. Google has long since been testing vehicles that would meet these requirements, but there is no indication on when they will be publicly available.
While autonomous driving has been tested in many countries in Europe as well as several states in the US, there is currently no recognition of autonomous driving in South African Legislation.