There are currently no autonomous cars for sale. Point blank. That is the cold hard truth. Nothing meets the requirements according to the standard of the SAE autonomy scale. It’s true that technology and engineering have come a long way, but by SAE standards, we’re still a long way from being a proper autonomous car. We will dive into that below.
I largely agree with former Alphabet president Eric Schmidt’s view that “it is a mistake that cars were invented before computers.” In terms of sheer technical elegance, we should never have been at the controls in the first place.
Imagine that we had not yet invented automobiles. Suppose I have a vision to use 3,300 pound machines to typically haul just our 175 pound selves in a process that requires us to pay close attention to using a steering wheel and pedals to navigate asphalt composite roads, brightly colored suggestions and bad guided. machines like ours that, even after years of refinement, killed 36,000 Americans every year. You would send me packing.
History aside, the vehicles we drive make sense only in a minority of cases where it happens. And this all comes from a guy who loves to drive cars, but knows he can’t ultimately justify it. Except we haven’t had a choice.
Which brings me to Level 4, which promises to offer that option. Of the six levels of vehicle autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, is the one that promises to substantially relieve humans of the need to drive for the foreseeable future. A level 4 car may not have a steering wheel or pedals, although removing them is not part of its definition. And level 4 is conditional, that is, it works when it can work, unlike level 5, which must work all the time for every trip and seems barely achievable in my life.
One of the smartest automakers around, Toyota, has an interesting view of all this. It covers both Level 3 and Level 4, rather than seeing the latter as a necessary graduation from the former. Toyota’s “gatekeeper” concept describes a level 3 car that acts as an exoskeleton for the driver’s assists, shaping our human driving behavior and saving us from most of the silly things we do behind the wheel. Its “chauffeur” concept is essentially Level 4 autonomy. Both are valuable concepts offered as options rather than assuming that we all abandon manual driving as soon as technically possible. Level 3 “guardian” technology would play a vital and long-lasting role in removing the poison and tedium of driving, although level 4 is technically more admirable in a general sense.
Watch the video as I try to make clear distinctions about each level of autonomous driving and put them in context with the current state of technology. You might be surprised how many of the building blocks of future “driving” you have in your current car.