Useful Car Tips

The Future of Autonomous Driving Technology

June 14, 2019
In recent years, no new technology in the car industry has made as big a a splash as the concept of autonomous driving: self-driving cars, trucks, and other vehicles which may one day make our roads safer and remove the factor of human error. While once an idea expected to only be widely adapted in the distant future, the technology is advancing at a rapid rate. In fact, select surveys have shown that 55% of small business owners believe their fleets will be fully autonomous within 20 years, and a majority of people—57%—are likely or very likely to support the use of autonomous vehicles to improve the indepence of seniors and individuals with disabilities. The technology isn’t without its detractors, however, with just 41% of consumers in a 2018 survey indicating they would ride in someone else’s self-driving car, an 8% drop from the previous year. Clearly, there is a not-insignificant portion of society resistant to the adaptation of this new technology, but it’s important to understand its current state, its advantages (and limitations), and consequently, its future on roads worldwide.


The Society of Automotive Engineers, now known as SAE International, is a globally active professional association which develops standards for engineering professionals in a variety of industries. This US-based organization has developed a standard, standard J3016, which defines six levels of automation for automakers and associated partners in the automobile industry. These levels range from level 0, or no automation, to level 5, or full automation. In the present day—as of June 2019—many consumer vehicles utilize technologies which are classified as level 1 automation. You’re probably familiar with some of these technologies, such as cruise control (automated systems which control and keep the vehicle at a set speed), the more advanced adaptive cruise control (or ACC, which uses both engine and brake modulation to maintain and vary speed), parking assistance (which—you guessed it—assists in parking by automating steering inputs while speed remains under manual control), and lane keeping assistance (otherwise known as LKA or alternatively, lane departure warning, which warns the driver when the vehicle begins to move out of its lane on highways, unless the turn signal is on in the correct indicated direction). Select vehicles have technology which attains even higher levels of autonomy, somewhere between levels 2 and 3 in the case of early versions of Tesla’s Autopilot system, as defined by the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which adapted SAE’s standard in 2016. At these levels—level 2 partial automation and level 3 conditional automation—cars can act autonomously but require the driver to be prepared to take control at a moment’s notice. Tesla’s system is currently recommended to be used on limited-access roadways for safety reasons.


Safety forms the crux of the debate over autonomous driving technology. As the previously-introduced surveys have suggested, the majority of people do not presently support widespread adaptation of fully self-driving (or level 5, fully-automated) vehicles on public roads. Public opinion contends that the current state of autonomous driving technology is not yet suitable for our roads, primarily due to the issue of perceived safety, or more accurately, the perceived lack of safety as compared to traditional non-autonomous level 0 vehicles. However, this perception may be ill-informed. For example, let’s again take a look at Tesla’s Autopilot system. Early data after 47 million miles (or almost 76 million kilometers) of driving in Autopilot mode suggests the probability of an accident may be at least 50% lower when using Autopilot. While these results are not an absolute indicator of the viability and safety of autonomous driving technology, they suggest that certain autonomous driving software has the potential to actually decrease the likelihood of an accident occurring.


While level 5—full automation—may not be quite ready for widespread adaptation, advancements are being made and development continues every day, with companies like Waymo and Tesla among the forefront. Level 2 and 3 automation is already road-tested, and testing of level 4 and 5 automation is well underway with Waymo’s fleet of 600 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. The future is bright for this technology and the road to full automation may soon be nearing an end. One day, you might even have a fully-autonomous vehicle in your own garage.
Previous Article Next Article