Level 5 and Beyond Autonomy in Transportation is Around the Corner

Posted by Land Link on Nov 29, 2017 8:37:29 AM

Ok, I'll bite. What is level 5? Ford announced it’s skipping over Level 3 and will put a fleet of Level 4 autonomous vehicles on the road in 2021. Mobileye and Delphi promised Level 4/5 self-drivers by 2019. There's little reason to define levels prior to this point so let's explore what level 3, 4, and 5 autonomous vehicles are.

These driving levels come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Society of Automotive Engineers.


Let’s Get a Handle on the Levels from 2017 and Beyond

So, lets begin past the obvious and start the conversation from where we are today. Level 3 is pretty much where standard passenger and commercial vehicles are today in terms of autonomous technology.

Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift "safety-critical functions" to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present and will intervene if necessary, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for the previous levels. Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said this is "the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4." He's focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. "We're not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that's not a fair proposition," McBride said.

Level 4: This is what is meant by "fully autonomous." Level 4 vehicles are "designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip." However, it's important to note that this is limited to the "operational design domain " of the vehicle meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.

Level 5: This refers to a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle's performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future.

The vehicle levels do serve a purpose. They provide a general guideline for what level of technology a vehicle can be classified. The classifications will be critical in insurance premium calculations, personal and commercial safety estimates, and a myriad of public safety implications. Tesla, for example has had issues with their cars being so quiet that pedestrians cannot hear the vehicles approaching a crosswalk. Engineers have experimented with artificial alert sounds like exhaust and manufactured tones taking away from the desired stealthlyness of the electric car 

There is likely to be a level 6 and beyond which may include options like an optional steering. The front seats might face backwards to make this a social space, because the car neither needs nor wants your help. Full-time automation of all driving tasks on any road, under any conditions, whether there's a human on board or not.

How Practical Are Flying Cars?

The potential for flying cars is being seriously considered among industry pioneers like those from SpaceX. The technical backbone for flying cars is arguably in design today. Everything except the off the ground thing.  The technology is already in place with drones becoming ever present and advancements in AI and self-driving cars but the time is coming soon that flying cars will be the primary mode of transportation. Adding a third dimension to travel may be, in many cases, the only practical solution for the gridlock that challenges our over burdened cities. For more information on these topics and to keep up to date on transportation topics subscribe to our blog @

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