There have been murmurs, fiddling, experiments, and various tests of autonomous cars over the past several years, but never have vehicles prowled the streets with no one at the wheel. Until now. Waymo, a company owned by Alphabet (Google), has released their driverless minivans in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, and they are finally taking passengers on rides.
Waymo has logged over 3 million miles of autonomous driving over the last several years, and they claim their system is the safest around. They use Chrysler Pacifica minivans as their vehicles.
Confused by what the levels of autonomy mean? Tech Republic has a good explanation:
Level 0: This one is pretty basic. The driver (human) controls it all: steering, brakes, throttle, power. It’s what you’ve been doing all along.
Level 1: This driver-assistance level means that most functions are still controlled by the driver, but a specific function (like steering or accelerating) can be done automatically by the car.
Level 2: In level 2, at least one driver assistance system of “both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment” is automated, like cruise control and lane-centering.
Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present and will intervene if necessary, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for the previous levels.
Level 4: This is what is meant by “fully autonomous.” Level 4 vehicles are “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.” However, it’s important to note that this is limited to the “operational design domain (ODD)” of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.
Level 5: This refers to a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle’s performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario—including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future.
Waymo’s explanation of how their technology works is fascinating, take a look at the video below.
Whether you find this advance exciting or frightening, it’s coming. Look out for more driverless cars on the road in the near future.