Autonomous driving

In connection with cars, the term autonomous driving is used to refer to the automatic driving of a vehicle, if you like. A vehicle equipped with autonomous driving is capable of sensing the vehicle’s surroundings, assessing the current driving situation and controlling the vehicle. In the highest level of autonomous driving, the vehicle can do everything without human input.

Autonomous vehicles utilize a range of technical principles for detecting their surroundings. Using radars, lasers, GPS, and cameras, an autonomous vehicle builds a picture of its current surroundings. The control system then evaluates this information and responds to the stimuli. It can start, steer, and stop the vehicle on its own. From a technical standpoint, autonomous vehicle control is a solvable problem, with its successful implementation depending on the use of increasingly sophisticated and accessible technologies. However, ethical and legal questions related to this technology remain unresolved.

autonomous driving  autonomous driving

In 2014, the Society of Automotive Engineers International, in collaboration with the U.S. NHTSA, defined five levels of autonomous driving. The lowest level is 0 (the vehicle only informs the driver with the help of sensors but does not control itself), and the highest is level 5 (fully robotic taxi, whose user will no longer need a driver’s license).

Although car manufacturers today try to give customers the impression that they already offer or are very close to fully autonomous driving, it is not true! Level 5 is still a long way off. Today’s cars offer a maximum of level 2, roughly equivalent to the ability to leave the driving to automation for a short time, but the driver must be prepared to take over at any time.


Level 0 of autonomous driving (no automation)

  • The vehicle is fully controlled by a human, who has complete control over it.
  • With the help of sensors, the vehicle only informs or alerts the driver.
  • Examples include warning of low tire pressure or frost warning.

autonomous driving - level 0  autonomous driving - level 0

Level 1 of autonomous driving (driver assistance)

  • The driver is still vigilant; the vehicle handles only certain driving modes.
  • The vehicle can perform only one assigned task at a time, not combine them.
  • Examples include lane-keeping assistance, acceleration or deceleration with adaptive cruise control, Front Assist to prevent collisions.

autonomous driving - level 1  autonomous driving - level 1  autonomous driving - level 1

Level 2 of autonomous driving (partial automation)

  • The vehicle’s automated system can combine at least two assigned tasks, such as controlling speed and direction. However, the driver must still monitor and be prepared to intervene immediately. In reality, frequent driver interventions in automatic driving are expected.
  • A typical example is automatic parking.

autonomous driving - level 2  autonomous driving - level 2  autonomous driving - level 2

Level 3 of autonomous driving (conditional automation)

  • The driver can safely divert their attention from driving for a certain period, e.g., to write messages or watch a movie. The vehicle can handle situations requiring an immediate response. However, the driver must still be ready to intervene within a specific time frame specified by the manufacturer. The first vehicle in this category was the Audi A8 in 2017, which has a traffic jam mode. When activated, the vehicle has full control over itself. It operates only up to 60 km/h on highways with a fixed barrier between lanes.

autonomous driving - level 3 autonomous driving - level 3

Level 4 of autonomous driving (high automation)

  • The vehicle can drive completely autonomously in any type of traffic; the driver can safely sleep or leave the driver’s seat. Exceptions are extraordinary situations, such as very bad weather, where it is better for a human to take control of the vehicle. However, the vehicle should be able to handle it even without human intervention.

autonomous driving - level 4  autonomous driving - level 4

Level 5 of autonomous driving (full automation)

  • A fully automatic vehicle, not equipped with a steering wheel or pedals.

autonomous driving - level 5  autonomous driving - level 5