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Front Page - Friday, January 26, 2018

Degrees of autonomy

When talking about self-driving technology systems, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has adopted the levels established by the Society of Automotive Engineers, ranging from complete driver control at Level 0 to full autonomy, including extreme environments and conditions, like dirt roads and heavy storms, at Level 5.

The biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4, which is why companies like Ford are going straight to Level 4.

Ford has announced plans to build fully autonomous, SAE Level 4 vehicles by 2021 as a main pillar of their Ford Smart Mobility, the company’s plan to be a leader in the industry. The Ford vehicle would operate without a steering wheel, gas pedal or brake pedal within geo-fenced areas as part of a ride sharing or ride hailing experience. Ford is working with Lyft to get their self-driving cars out in large numbers that same year.

Tesla Autopilot is an increasingly capable suite of safety and convenience features that since September 2014 has come standard in all Tesla vehicles. Tesla continues to refine and enhance the Autopilot system via over-the-air software updates.

Autopilot is currently a Level 2 automated system. As Autopilot technology continues to be developed, more advanced functionality will likely be made available to Tesla owners over time nearing full self-driving capabilities.

And since October 2016, all Tesla vehicles have been produced with the hardware needed for full self-driving capability, with eight surround cameras that provide 360-degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors allow for detection of objects and a forward-facing radar provides additional data on a wavelength able to see through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead. An onboard computer processes all the data to enhance the driver experience.