The prospect of fully autonomous vehicles will benefit society in several ways, including improved movement of people and products, facilitated mobility for aging populations, and a decline in serious traffic collisions.
These benefits help legitimize the quest for autonomous vehicles. While we are advancing along the vehicle autonomy continuum, full autonomy can't truly be accomplished with vehicle technology and innovation alone. First, it is important to understand what the journey to full autonomy will look like.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has presented six levels of automation, and they are defined per the following:
Level 0: No Automation. Most vehicles on the road today are Level 0 - completely controlled by a human driver. The human performs the "dynamic driving task" although there may be systems in place to help the driver during normal operation of the car.
Level 1: Driver Assistance. The vehicle features a single automated system for driver assistance, such as steering controls or accelerating with cruise control.
Level 2: Partial Driving Automation. The vehicle controls steering, acceleration, and deceleration, however, a human is in the driver’s seat and can take control of the car at any time.
Level 3: Conditional Automation. These vehicles have “environmental detection” capabilities and can make informed decisions for themselves based on what is happening on the perimeter of the vehicle, such as accelerating past a slow-moving vehicle.
Level 4: High-Driving Automation. Level 4 vehicles can operate in self-driving mode and do not require human interaction in most circumstances. Currently, these vehicles are used in very limited and tightly controlled conditions.
Level 5: Full-Driving Automation. These vehicles do not require human attention and may not even have a human inside as the “dynamic driving task” is eliminated.
For consumers, Level 1 and 2 type features are now standard in most new vehicles. The race to offer and normalize level 3 features and beyond is heating up, with new breakthroughs every month. However, leveling up can only come with increased connectivity and network speeds.
A critical factor to the proper and safe operation of the vehicles is the connectivity network. Ubiquitous low latency, high bandwidth wireless networks are the cornerstone to realizing the vision of fully autonomous mobility.
One thing we know is that industry leaders and mobility visionaries will need to perfect connectivity to achieve V2X – Vehicle to Everything. As data requirements grow, vehicles will increasingly connect to the cloud, infrastructure, and other vehicles.
For example, achieving level 5 autonomy in vehicles will require real-time and redundant connectivity, consistent and reliable high-speed data, and new vehicle designs optimized for new tech and safety upgrades.
With human lives at stake, it is critical to ensure safe data transport and provide the highest physical and data security protections.
Safety and reaching new levels of vehicle autonomy go hand-in-hand with the innovation of several key technologies, which will play a major role in making full autonomous mobility a reality.
Autonomous vehicle communication can be thought of in spheres; within the vehicle, around the vehicle perimeter (e.g., sensing), and with external devices, infrastructure, the cloud, and other machines.
Three core technologies enable the advancement up the vehicle autonomy ladder: radar, LiDAR, and cameras.
Radars are already found in some vehicles supporting functions such as cruise control. However, it plays an important role in the progression of autonomous vehicles too. We can see the use of radar in scenarios such as parking assist, operating in slow-moving traffic, and other tasks executed at higher speeds like lane changing on motorways, for example.
LiDAR is a technology that nearly all automobile manufacturers are currently including in their development programs and will be pivotal in complementing vehicle radar systems. The system reaches 250 meters from the vehicle, allowing for an exponential increase in the data acquired compared to previous LiDAR systems.
Lastly, the establishment of cameras on vehicles will enable a 360° real-time view of its environment. Through this, blind spots can be minimized, lane retention can be assured, and notifications about changes to the speed limit can be provided.
The sensor suite of radar, LiDAR, and high-definition cameras are essential to the future of autonomous vehicles. With improvements in connectivity and new advances in innovating technologies, level 5, full-driving automation will be possible.
It will take several years for all aspects of autonomous mobility to come together, but the market is already developing due to the formation of dynamic ecosystems of innovators, industry pioneers, community leads and regulars. Companies like Waymo, Luminar, Volvo, Hyundai, Uber, Apple and so many more are truly invested in fulfilling the promise of full vehicle autonomy.
In addition, lawmakers are already discussing proper regulations for such technologies, and attention will turn to consumers to gauge how ready they are to hand over the wheel. While it may just be a matter of time, there are still so many exciting steps and breakthroughs ahead in the world of autonomous vehicles.
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