Johannesburg - Self-driving cars (or autopilot or autonomous cars if you prefer) are no longer science fiction but a near-reality.
Until we reach a point in the next few years where we can sit back and let our cars drive us to our destinations all by themselves however, there is a transitional road to follow with vehicles in various stages of autopilot readiness.
To cut through the confusion, the Society of Automotive Engineers International has come up with a classification system identifying six levels of driving automation from “no automation” to “full automation”, explained here:
No Automation. The human does all the work.
Driver Assistance. The car performs a simple task like cruise control, where the car holds a speed chosen by the driver.
Partial Automation. The car helps out with more than one task, assisting with both steering and acceleration/deceleration. The car can maintain its speed, slow down to avoid other cars or pedestrians, and stay in its lane. A number of cars on sale already feature this technology.
Conditional Automation. The new Audi A8 due for launch later this year will most likely be the first production car with this level, which means the car can make more complex decisions. Instead of braking to avoid hitting a suddenly-stopped minibus taxi, it can look around, decide to change lanes, and pass (until the next minibus cuts it off). The human driver still needs to take over in certain cases, for instance if the road’s painted lines disappear.
High Automation. The car can handle any driving situation by itself in most environments, even if the human driver doesn’t respond to a request to intervene.
Full Automation. No steering wheel needed. Say “take me home” and sit back and check your emails or watch a movie while the car navigates its way through the traffic.