5 different levels of autonomy in autonomous cars


Posted by: Henry Egan

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Self-driving or Autonomous cars no longer exist only in science fiction movies and book. It is more of a reality now than ever as we take a close look at them in this article below!

Self-driving and Autonomous cars are now with us in a rather subdued level, all thanks to our much improved engineering capabilities and our ability to integrate high level automotive technologies to vehicle production.

These technologies have metamorphosed and evolved over years of relentless research into numerous engineering technicalities and fields. Now we are able to infuse some of these hard work into our cars to make live a bit easy, some of these low level autonomy technology include forward collision warning, autonomous parking assist, cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot warning and other complex communication systems.  

1. What exactly is an autonomous car?

Autonomous cars perform all of their functions self-sufficiently and independent of any form of assistance from a human driver. With this broad definition, it becomes glaringly obvious that we do not have fully autonomous cars yet.

But we will not be crazy to dream of fully autonomous cars in the future. In fact, Chris Urmson, a pioneer in autonomous vehicle development when asked on how real autonomous cars are stated:

“Yes, it can happen. I think you’re going to see small-scale deployments in the next five years, and then it’s going to phase in over the next 30 to 50 years”


Level 5 is the highest autonomy level under the SAE classification

>>> Developed countries are confident with their autonomous technologies: Self-driving truck by Einride begins deliveries on public road in Sweden

2. Levels of autonomy in self-driving cars

Society of Automotive Engineers SAE on its part has developed a more consumer friendly break down of the various levels of Automation and associated technical jargons through a technical document entitled “Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to Driving Automation Systems for On-Road Motor Vehicles”.

The following chart gives a clearer insight to the various levels of driving automation. SAE International stated that it released this document to help speed up the delivery of standard best practice and regula­tory framework that will help guide manufacturers and other associated firms in the safe development, design, testing s well as deployment of highly automated vehicles.


SAE chart showing a description of the various Autonomy levels

  • Level Zero: Very little or no Automation at all

This represents the lowest level of vehicle automation. In this level, you can only expect low level autonomous activities like short interval driver assistance and provision of emergency warnings like lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking etc.

  • Level 1

This level of vehicle autonomy comes with more capabilities. In addition to the Level Zero features, this autonomy level allows for Vehicle steering OR adaptive cruise control involving acceleration and braking as the case may be.

This level can only support one function at a time and cannot perform adaptive cruise control functions and vehicle steering at the same time. Most autonomous vehicles currently in circulation operate at this level of automation.

>>> Nigerians are curious about autonomous cars: Nigerians' reactions when seeing a self-driving car for the first time

  • Level 2

This autonomy level offers more capability when compared to Level 1. It is able to perform both adaptive cruise control functions as well as vehicle steering simultaneously. A perfect example of car autonomy systems that operate on SAE level autonomy is the I G M super cruise and the Tesla Autopilot.

*NOTE: Please note that they autonomy levels stated above only serve as driver support and that the car is still under the supervision and control of the driver.

  • Level 3

This is a little bit more advance autonomy level. However, the driver is still expected to be in control until when the autonomous system takes over which can only happen when all conditions are met. Still, these conditions are rather limited and do not cover the full range of expectations on the road. A good example of a vehicle autonomy system on this level is the Audi AI traffic jam pilot.

Illustration of Audi AI traffic jam pilot technology!

  • Level 4: High Automation

This is a much higher level of vehicle automation. At this level, your vehicle will operate independently. However, the driver might still step in if required. As is seen in the chart, this feature can only drive the car under limited conditions. Driverless taxis fall into this category. Companies like Uber, Google and Apple are quietly developing the driverless taxi model.

  • Level 5: Full Automation

This is the highest autonomy level under the SAE classification. At this level, the vehicle is fully autonomous and will operate self-sufficiently and independently without any need for human assistance. At this level, the system can fully manage all conditions and humans will only be passengers and will be chauffeured about by the autonomous system. A good example is the autonomy system in the Audi Aicon and the Tesla Autopilot 2.0

Fullest level of driving autonomy in Tesla Autopilot

These classification gives us a perfect idea of the vehicle autonomous. However, we are still miles away from having a level 5 autonomous vehicle in use. There are still numerous hurdles to beat, from legal issues, to legislative backing to insurance issues and so many others. Even still, we still do not have a ready to use technology in place to support level 5 autonomy. But we can be sure that we will someday get there!!!

>>> Always check for the most advanced car technology and newly released vehicles on Naijauto.com!

Henry Egan
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Henry Egan

Henry Egan


Henry Egan a poet, essayist, content writer, blogger and technical writer who is willing to read just that last material to develop the best content possible. Henry feels he is more of a new generation writer with a sassy and swanky style. You can be sure you'll get all the facts in and never get bored with his articles.

He has got a flair for technical reviews on automobile and cars. He studied Mechanical Engineering but his first love remains Literary Art.

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