What Is a Self-Driving Car?

When we think of a self-driving car, the first car that usually comes to most of our minds is KITT from the 1980s TV show Knight Rider. But we’re far from there. So, how far have self-driving vehicles come? And most importantly, will they include an eject button? We’ll answer those questions in this blog post.

What Is a Self-Driving Car Today?

A self-driving vehicle can drive itself, but a human must be able to intervene if needed. The car cannot create its own destinations, for example. However, self-driving cars do sense their surroundings. This is possible through radars, cameras, and ultrasound sensors that are installed all around the vehicles. Some cars even employ their radio antennas and navigation system to better understand the roads around them. Modern vehicles may even be equipped with some or all of the features needed to allow them to sense their environment.

Different Levels of Autonomy

There are five levels of self-driving autonomy.

Level 0–No automation. A person makes all the inputs to the vehicle. Some vehicles in this category will warn you of hazards, but the vehicle will not intervene. An example of this would be blind spot monitoring on a Ford Escape.

Level 1–Driver assistance. The vehicle and person share control of the vehicle. For example, the vehicle may increase braking force if a collision is imminent, or it can also steer you slightly back into your lane if you were about to exit by accident. The goal with Level 1 vehicles is to provide drivers with assistance while they drive. The Hyundai Sonata offers this level on some trims.

Level 2–Partial automation. This level allows the automated system to take full control of the vehicle. This includes braking, accelerating, and following vehicles on the highway. The human in the vehicle for this level still has to pay full attention in case the system fails to recognize a potential hazard or makes a mistake. The Lexus RX with Lexus Safety System+ offers these features.

Level 3–Conditional automation. Level 3 offers the same automation as Level 2; however, the human occupant can take their attention away from driving tasks. They must still be able to intervene if needed, but it will make eating that cheese burger easier when you’re not bouncing between lanes. A good example of this level is the Tesla drivers who’ve been caught reading while driving.

Level 4–High automation. At this level, the vehicle performs all the driving tasks under specific circumstances, for example, only in favourable weather. Many of these vehicles only operate in a pre-programmed area called a geo-fence. In other words, a Level 4 vehicle may only drive in one neighbourhood. These vehicles are still being extensively tested at universities all over Canada, including the University of Waterloo.

Level 5–Full automation. KITT minus the personality. At this level, the vehicle can perform all driving tasks no matter the conditions. Human not required.

Do I Own a Self-Driving Car?

The simple answer is probably yes, because all vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are technically classified as self-driving. This includes many vehicles that are ten years old or newer. ADAS includes blind spot detection in your mirrors and early versions of radar cruise control. If you have a car that is two or three years old or newer, it may have many of the features we’ve listed above.

Will Fully Automated Cars Have an Eject Button?

Due to potential liability issues of what might happen after the person you’ve ejected finds you again, we suspect not. This is in your best interests. You wouldn’t want to enter a critical meeting at work and have a slime bucket land on your head now, would you?

How Can I Buy a Fully Automated Self-Driving Car?

Completely automated vehicles are not commercially available in 2021 yet. But with the research that is being conducted in post-secondary education with sponsorship from major car brands, the day we can buy a fully self-driving car could be closer than we think. With rumours of an Apple self-driving car, and Google’s large investment into self-driving, it’s clear that big tech companies are pushing for it, too.