What is autonomous driving?

Autonomous driving basically describes controlling a vehicle or system without a driver. The term is by no means limited to automobiles, but can also be applied to Robot or transport systems, although the term is widely used in the automotive sector.

5 levels of autonomous driving

The degree of automation is classified from 0 to 5 using an internationally standardised level. Level 0 describes the self-driver who drives without the help of driver assistance systems. Levels 1 to 5 of autonomous driving are described below:

  • At Level 1 (Assisted driving), the system takes over certain tasks of driving the vehicle, whereby the driver must be able to take full control of the vehicle at all times. An example of this is the use of cruise control, lane departure warning or distance assistance.
  • Level 2 (Semi-automated driving) enables the vehicle to temporarily take over driving tasks from the driver. Examples of this are the overtaking assistant or automatic parking, where the driver is allowed to take his hands off the steering wheel, but must still be able to take control of the vehicle at any time.
  • Autonomous driving Level 3 (Highly automated driving) goes a step further in terms of the driving tasks that the system can perform without human intervention. The driver is allowed to temporarily turn away from the traffic and, for example, read the newspaper or take care of passengers in the back seat. However, the driver must be able to resume driving the vehicle after a sufficient time has elapsed. The vehicle manufacturers define the conditions for the operation of highly automated driving. Motorways are particularly suitable for this, as there is no oncoming traffic here and the road markings are usually clearly visible.
  • In Level 4 (Fully automated driving), the level of automation of the vehicle increases by further components. Autonomous driving level 4 allows the driver to completely hand over control of the vehicle. Even the presence of a passenger during the journey is not necessary, so that independent parking procedures or motorway journeys of the vehicle are also possible. If the system reaches its limits, it is able to reach a safe state such as a parking space or the edge of the road. At this level, however, the driver still has the option of taking over all driving tasks himself.
  • In the last Level 5 (Autonomous driving) of automation, the driving operation is only controlled by the system, whereby all vehicle occupants permanently become passengers and no longer take on driving tasks, as the system solves all situations independently.

Where do we stand today?

While level 1 and 2 autonomous driving functions are already widespread in most new cars, offers Mercedes-Benz is the first manufacturer to have an approved Level 3 system for the S-Class and EQS for sales in Germany to. The Drive Pilot can be activated and used in defined situations on motorways up to a speed of 60 km/h.

Other German car manufacturers or suppliers such as Audi, BMW, VW or Bosch are also researching and in some cases developing in cooperation in the field of autonomous driving. Some technology companies such as Google (with its subsidiary Waymo) and Apple are conducting intensive research in this area. Tesla currently delivers their vehicles with a hardware version that would allow autonomous driving level 5, but this is not activated due to a lack of approval.

In the field of transport logistics, such as at MAN or DB Schenker, research is being conducted on driverless transport vehicles.

In addition to the technical requirements for the individual stages of autonomous driving, the legal component also plays a decisive role, whereby the VDA (German Association of the Automotive Industry) supports the creation of a regulatory framework in order to act as a technology driver in Germany.

Content of the VDA flagship initiative

The VDA flagship initiative autonomous and connected driving (AVF) has set itself the goal of strengthening Germany as a location for automated and connected driving through cooperation and increased transparency in pre-competitive basic research by building up broad-based expertise. The flagship initiative is intended to coordinate development needs and funding priorities, leverage synergies between projects and avoid redundancies and misinvestments.