Once upon a time, people thought for sure that there would have been flying cars by now. Remember “Back to the Future: Part 2?” That was supposed to happen seven years ago, and we still cannot even figure out how to make cars drive themselves on the road, let alone in the sky.
However, some companies are indeed trying really hard to make the whole “autonomous driving” aspect work out.
Just so we’re all clear, at the moment, there is no such thing as an autonomous car. General Motors (specifically Cadillac’s supercruise) and Tesla are currently the closest to achieving this, but it is clear there is room to grow.
There are six levels of driving autonomy, 0-5. Level 0 is the most basic, where the car will not do anything that the driver does not tell it to. All forms of braking, acceleration, steering, everything is done by the driver; although, simple driving aids are included, such as stability and traction control.
Level 1 includes functions like adaptive cruise control, where the car can keep a reasonable distance between itself and the car in front by itself. Level 1 also includes features like lane-keep assistance or lane-following assistance. However, in a Level 1 car, only one feature can work at a time. Level 2 is, in short, everything in Level 1 working at the same time and is fairly common; Hyundai and Ford both have systems that technically qualify as Level 2.
Level 3 is where it starts to get wild. In theory, the driver does not need to baby the electronics which are driving the car and can worry about activities other than driving.
However, JD Power said, “a human driver must be present, alert, and able to take control of the vehicle at any time, especially in the case of an emergency due to system failure.”
Currently, Audi, Honda, Mercedes and Tesla have technology that can be considered Level 3, but none of them are officially legally approved.
Level 4 is where dreamland starts and current reality ends. No car made today can come close to level 4. In this case, the car is not even in need of a steering wheel or pedals, and the occupants could potentially take a nap since the car can do all accelerating, braking, and steering by itself. However, it would still need a person to activate it and might be shackled by weather conditions or digital geo-fencing.
Level 5 is pure science fiction, as these are true autonomous cars. They have no limitations and will only need a human to tell them where to go.
Currently, Tesla, as well as other manufacturers, are knocking on Level 3’s door, but have yet to really crack it. Therefore, no car manufacturer, nor any sentient human can claim they own or produce an autonomous car.
Normally, when car manufacturers are testing new and advanced features that are yet to be approved, they have professionals do it, or they do it themselves. Tesla does not. They have implemented the FSD Beta (Full Self-Driving Beta) that allows normal people to test the new “self-driving” abilities and updates if the drivers meet certain driving safety qualifications deemed necessary by Tesla.
The latest version of the FSD Beta software is 10.10 and there are various videos showing normal independent Youtubers and large publications testing some of the latest updates. In the videos, you can see the FSD Beta bearing the full weight of difficult and perilous obstacles such as pedestrians, bollards, traffic lights and roundabouts.
Please watch the videos in their entirety. Personally, if I was in the passenger seat with a human who drove like that I would take their driver’s license out of their wallet and put it in a paper shredder because they clearly do not know what they are doing.
The main reason that people believe that Tesla has truly autonomous driving capabilities and Mercedes, Hyundai, and GM do not is down to the marketing. This is possibly even a moral question. What happens if the car doesn’t see a pedestrian and the driver is not paying enough attention either, and a pedestrian or two gets mowed down?
Part of me really wants to see this work; it would be a huge step forward for the car as we know it. But part of me cannot possibly see how a machine can drive better than a person behind the wheel, looking out the windshield.