In the race to design, build and distribute driverless vehicles en mass, the automotive and technology industries have agreed on a set of definitions created by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The six levels of autonomy range from no automation at all to full automation, ie there’s no need for a steering wheel or brakes when the vehicle is capable of driving itself in all conditions. In between, the levels reflect various driver assistance and autopilot features.    

SAE International have now revised the six levels of classification to make it easier to distinguish between driver assistance features and outright autonomy.

The standards are an important shared language between law makers and engineers and have been adopted by the US Department of Transportation in its “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, which became a de facto global standard adopted by stakeholders in the automated vehicle technology.

It has been argued that we should just get rid of driverless levels altogether. The argument goes that humans aren’t very good at passively monitoring situations, and systems which ask drivers to take over control of the car in certain conditions could actually do more harm than good.

The alternative is to replace the levels with two categories: driver assist and driverless.

This week the SAE International has released a new chart featuring more “consumer-friendly” terms and definitions for the levels zero to five, including the question: “What does the human in the driver’s seat have to do?”  

Source: SAE International

This compares with the 2014 version of the graphic:

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