Despite great progress, we still have a long time to go before self-driving cars are ready to hit the road. The auto industry continues to promise great things for self-driving vehicles, but frankly, the disappointment is level 4 self-driving cars. If you don’t know what that is, read on.

I largely agree with the opinion of former Alphabet president Eric Schmidt that “it is a bug that cars were invented before computers”. In terms of pure technical elegance, we should never have been in the driver’s seat in the first place.

Imagine that we haven’t invented automobiles yet. Suppose I have a vision for using 3,300-pound machines to generally just haul our 175-pound selves in a process that requires us to pay close attention to using a steering wheel and pedals to navigate. roads made up of asphalt, brightly colored suggestions and evil machines like ours that, even after years of refinement, killed 36,000 Americans each year. You would send me to pack my bags. .

History aside, the vehicles we drive only make sense in a minority of cases where this happens. And it’s all from a guy who loves driving cars, but knows he can’t justify it after all. Except that we had no choice.

Which brings me to level 4, which promises to offer such a choice. Of the six levels of autonomy of the vehicle, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, it 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 eliminating them is not part of its definition. And level 4 is conditional, meaning it works when it can work, as opposed to level 5, which has to work all the time for every trip and seems barely achievable in my lifetime.

Society of Automotive Engineers

One of the smartest automakers, Toyota, has an interesting take on it all. It encompasses both level 3 and level 4, rather than seeing the latter as a necessary graduation from the former. Toyota’s concept of “keeper” describes a Level 3 car that acts like an exoskeleton of driver aids, shaping our human driving behavior and avoiding most of the stupid things we do behind the wheel. Their concept of “driver” is essentially level 4 range. Both are valuable concepts that are offered as a choice rather than assuming that we are all giving up manual driving as soon as technically possible. Level 3 “guardian” technology would have a long and vital role in removing the venom and boredom of driving, although level 4 is the most technically admirable in a general sense.

Watch the video as I try to make clear distinctions on each level of autonomous driving and put them in context to the current state of technology. You might be surprised to learn how many building blocks for future “driving” you have in your current car.

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