t was in the 1920s that the world realized its dream - to make more than cars. To make cars that drive themselves, like some sort of mythological god-carrying machine. Is it a surprise that it took almost a whole century to bring this vision into a reality? A surprisingly large amount of time relative to the pace of innovations in other areas. So, what is an autonomous vehicle? At a very basic level, it is simply a vehicle that can ‘drive itself’ by combining various motion sensors, AI inputs, as well as (optionally) human interaction.
5 Levels of Automated Vehicles
Automated vehicles are categorized into 5 distinct tiers, in which the main difference between each level is the amount of human interaction. The categories are classified according to their relative amount of automation. The levels range from Level 1- minimal automation, to Level 5- complete automation.
Level 1 - Driver Assistance
Level 2 - Partly Automated Driving
Level 3 (current flagship cars) - Highly Automated Driving
Level 4* - Fully Automated Driving
Level 5 - Complete Automation
*The difference between level 4 and 5 is that a human driver can request control in level 4 while in level 5, a driver is unnecessary. In fact, there is no cockpit in a Level 5 vehicle.
Level 1 (Driver Assistance)
In the level 1 automation system, the driver is aided by AI. However, AI can’t take over the entire driving process. For example:
- Active Cruise Control with Stop and Go function
- Collision and Pedestrian Warning with City Brake Activation, which prevents accidents by automatic braking.
The main components here are the motion sensors. The information given by the motion sensors is integrated with the stop and go function. This enables the car to automatically brake in case of a sudden interference in the path of the car.
Level 2 (Partly Automated Driving)
In a level 2 automation system, the role of AI increases. However, it is still ‘subordinate’ or subject to human authority. Technological aids help the driver with parts of their work- like parking. For example:
- Steering and Lane Control Assistant
Level 3 (Highly Automated Driving)
This is a long jump from level 2, where most of today’s “Autonomous” driving vehicles aspire to be. It proffers drivers more freedom to fully divert their attention away from the road during certain conditions. In other words, the driver can hand over control at certain times. It is where the car has the ability to drive itself, but a human is required to intervene in periodic intervals, mostly for safety concerns. For example:
- Touching the steering wheel every 5 minutes.
- When driving through construction sites, the driver must take control.
Level 4 (Fully automated driving)
Level 4 is considered to be fully autonomous driving, although a human driver can still request control and the car still has a cockpit (therefore the driver must remain fit to drive and be able to take control at any time.). This is the key difference between levels 4 and 5. This is the level that will come to life ONLY once humanity truly deems its technology as trustworthy and gives it complete control of the driving process. For example:
- A driver would be free to leave his seat, but will also be able to revert control back to himself for some good-old human driving.
Level 5 (Completely autonomous)
This is the ultimate aim of self-driving vehicle developers. This is where A.I. does every last bit of work, and humans can sit back, relax, and have a truly stress-free ride.
Is the market prepared for a self-driving vehicle?
It’s easy to see why humans would be readily accepting such technologies, because of a few reasons:
- Manufacturers have displayed excellent records of improved safety, by a ridiculously large margin. Features like Tesla’s ever-improving Autopilot are reporting fewers incidents than regular driving and that has gained trust on the brand, worldwide.
- Companies have executed their marketing plans for these technologies perfectly and this swayed many people to support them. All manufacturers are required to list their websites with the details of A.I.s and sensors’ reliability and safety features, as a part of the regulatory requirement. The primary motive is to assure the consumers that it is safe and reliable.
- Although most consumers have been relieved of their concerns- many are still skeptical of the tech’s safety and the exposure of new flaws. One hilarious example being “hackers” convincing a Tesla to drive at 85mph by sticking a piece of tape to the speed limit board.
The Skeptics’ Arguments
The skeptics also have a compelling case. One fuelled by sheer “realism” is that autonomous cars aren’t the future, at least not yet. Chief among them is that for autonomous vehicles to fully take over, there are certain requirements that it has to fulfill, and these are anything but easy! The main criteria are that autonomous vehicles have to be:
- Technologically Feasible,
- Economically Accessible,
- Last, and Hardest, Culturally Acceptable!
Even if companies are able to create an affordable, mass-market, self-driving vehicle, it is destined to fail without the support of the customers! That is the hard part, because of two reasons, the primary criteria for an acceptable and feasible product are the human needs and AI accountability! Humanity is still questioning whether its creation is trust-worthy, especially in life-or-death scenarios!
The second and a lot more talked-about reason is the after-effects of such a radical innovation on the market. Innovation is a double-edged sword, and can “just as easily ruin lives as improving them”. Especially in an inextricably linked together economy where everything from the delivery price of an item that you ordered online to the exact price of the same item is dependent on the transporters! This means that while pretty much everything could possibly get cheaper through autonomous vehicles, many human drivers will, with full certainty, lose their job! Is unemployment going to destroy the economy? Is the mere possibility enough to justify the certain loss of jobs?
The Result Of Introducing Self Driving Vehicles To The Market?
Innovation, as a concept, isn’t something new to humanity. Innovation- and with it, the loss of jobs, and seemingly huge “setbacks” to economies have been happening since- the wheel! Change has always been met by a large amount of criticism as well as a large amount of support, but one thing we can all agree on is that change defines our future. Without change, we’d still be in the days of slavery- or cent! None of the objects we use daily would be with us right now! If humanity as a whole was left unscratched by all these previous radical changes- things will probably be alright now- but how so? that’s the question- and for the answer, we need to use logic to guide us into the conclusions obvious in hindsight.
In the automobile industry, regarding driver-based vehicles, a large amount of the assembly line workforce needs no formal degree, but rather have gotten trained in the field of mechanics. However, with the introduction of self-driving vehicles, the requirement for skilled laborers will increase due to the complexity of the product itself. That’s bad news for enterprises as the cost of production will increase significantly; because a self-driving car isn’t just a chassis with wheels attached- in contrast to driver-based vehicles- digital innovation is an essential part of every self-driving vehicle and something companies have to invest in. Companies should have the trust that AI can be competent enough in a market dominated by ‘normal’ cars.
The question is now, are companies willing to spend the extra money to introduce a product in the market with no assurance whether it will sell or not? The hunger for new technology is there, in order for these products to sell, it has to be at a reasonable price and appealing to the consumer. The thing is, although there are many unsure factors at play here, self-driving vehicles have tremendous upsides. This is evidently a risk many companies are willing to take, as seen in previous innovations because the reward clearly outweighs the risk. Companies have the once in a century chance of cashing in big-time.
Let’s take a look at the situation that predominated the 19th century. This was a time and age when hand made goods dominated the local market. The handmade goods that were made by local weavers and artisans represented refinement and class, this was a major reason why many of the princely authorities preferred handmade goods to factory produced goods. However, these handmade goods were not affordable by all, so local traders started looking for different ways to produce. The introduction of machines like Spinning Jenny suddenly changed the landscape of the economy. The traders who continued to depend on weavers and artisans were quickly eclipsed by those who adapted to the changing market. Similarly, with the case of self-driving vehicles, those who refuse to adjust their scheme will perish, but those who willingly make changes corresponding with the market will continue to prosper. But these upgrade-or-perish scenarios still have the “perish” part, what’s to happen to the ones who lose their jobs, for example, the blue-collar workers?
For the answer, it’s important to analyze the ripple effects that innovation will have on the market- In this case, self-driving vehicles essentially outsource the human driving task to AI, making transportation cheaper, meaning that the cost of moving raw materials and finished products will become extremely cheap! This means that companies will be able to enjoy higher margins, and the profits will likely be passed on to the customers. This means that the customers- who now can afford additional products and services- create demand for new markets, or existing services- increasing the demand for unskilled labor in other markets. The employment gaps generated in the automobile industry by the introduction of self-driving vehicles will be filled somewhere else!
To conclude, innovation will not destroy the market or decrease the quality of life in fact, it does the exact opposite. It actually nourishes newer markets, and improves the quality of life everywhere! Innovation is a force of good, here to brighten the lives of many, even if you think the opposite. The 19th-century innovations making clothes high-quality, affordable, and ultimately accessible can be directly correlated with our current predicament. However, one thing is certain, the evolution of automation in vehicles is only going to help!
What Can You Expect Next?
Although all the information in this article is currently up to date, the world is compelled to constantly push the frontiers on what can be achieved and advancements are bound to occur regardless of what field it occurs in. In order to stay relevant with the rapidly evolving world, future editions of this article are going to be published; some content will stay and some will not. In upcoming editions, we’ll see how the notion of a self-driving car has grown with time and discern how the technological advancements have developed the process of successfully manufacturing a Level-3 autonomous vehicle. We will explore how the perception of the public regarding autonomous vehicles has shifted from “That sounds like that’s from the future” to “Those are not affordable for the common man” and so on!