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Analysing market forecasts for autonomous vehicles

Posted: 28 Aug 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Autonmous Vehicles? cars? Google?

Levels of autonomyBecause there is no "100 per cent watertight definition" of autonomous cars today, as Riches pointed out, perhaps it's useful to describe different levels, according to five definitions put together by the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration earlier this year.

Level 0, according to the NHTSA, is a car with no automation. The driver is (we hope) in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls, such as brake, steering, throttle, and motive power, all the time.

Level 1 indicates a car with one or more function-specific automation control functions including electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes. In other words, this allows the vehicle to automatically assist with braking to enable the driver to regain control of the vehicle or stop faster than possible by acting alone.

Level 2, meanwhile, offers combined-function automation, offering at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver. An example would be adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centring.

Level 3 provides limited self-driving automation, enabling the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The NHTSA sees the Google car as "an example of limited self-driving automation."

Level 4 is defined by the NHTSA as "full self-driving automation." The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time.

Strategy Analytics' Riches noted, "I would start calling a vehicle 'semi-autonomous' at NHTSA's Level 2, progressing into level 3." Meanwhile, the term "fully autonomous" is reserved for Level 4 automation, he added. "Essentially, if the driver needs to be present and ready to take control if required, then the vehicle is only semi-autonomous."

For any market research firm, predicting the future 20 years ahead is tricky business and inexact science. Riches described any forecast that extends to 2025 and beyond as "more in the realm of future-gazing than modelling."

Navigant Research's Alexander, while acknowledging the challenge, noted, "Twenty years is a long way out, but we're making predictions based on the technologies that are already available," and information the firm has gathered on rollout plans by the industry.

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