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robotic car technology

An overview of today’s driverless car technology


How soon will truly driverless cars be available to consumers?

You may be surprised to learn that the concept of a driverless car has been around for quite some time. In fact, General Motors debuted its model of the first ever self-driving car at the World's Fair in 1939, which used remote-controlled electromagnetic fields to guide the car. Unfortunately, it could only be driven on a special magnetized road.

More recently, self-driving cars came to prominence with the rise of Tesla, which promised to create an all-electric, self-driving vehicle. The idea that you could take a nap in your vehicle while driving to work in traffic came one step closer to reality when self-driving cars started using autonomous systems to drive instead of a driver.

What is self-driving car technology?

There are actually 2 types of self-driving car technologies:

  • Driver support systems include smart or adaptive driver assistance systems. Lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control are 2 common examples of driver support systems.
  • Autonomous systems are supposed to be able to do all the driving for you, which means you can relax and sit back in your vehicle while you’re driven around town. Currently, there are no cars commercially available to consumers that are able to offer true autonomous driving capabilities.

Which companies are currently manufacturing self-driving cars?

Even though Tesla was the forerunner of the self-driving car industry, other carmakers have started to build their own driverless vehicles.

For example, General Motors has created the GM Cruise. These vehicles were originally built off of the Chevy Bolt model and use autonomous systems to drive. These all-electric vehicles will also be used for taxis and grocery delivery in some states.

Google started a self-driving brand called Waymo. These autonomous rideshare vehicles operate without drivers and are currently being tested in Phoenix.

Amazon is jumping on the self-driving trend with their new car Zoox. The design is completely different from other driverless cars, resembling a horse-drawn carriage or wagon. The design doesn’t have a driver’s seat. Rather, the Zoox is built entirely for passengers. Their goal is to build a vehicle for ridesharing that would rival Lyft and Uber.

Other car companies that are currently working on autonomous vehicles include Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Ford.

Levels of automated driving

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has long been the authority on vehicle safety. In 2014, the SAE established 6 classifications of vehicle autonomy, which are defined according to the amount of driver intervention and attention required by the system. Since then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also adopted SAE’s classifications as its own, and they’ve become widely accepted globally.

Below are the 6 levels of automated driving as defined by the SAE.

Level 0: No Automation

At this level, human control is required to drive the vehicle. The driver must control everything, including braking, accelerating and stopping at a red light. However, Level 0 vehicles may have driver support systems, such as blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, and collision warnings. In some cases, these vehicles also have automatic emergency braking to prevent an accident.

Level 1: Some driver assistance

This level includes only 1 automated system, such as adaptive cruise control. Drivers are able to take their feet off the gas while using this technology but are needed to control all other functions like braking and steering.

Many newer commercially available cars have Level 1 automation.

Level 2: Partial automation

Vehicles with this level of autonomy have what’s known as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), where the car can control both speed and steering. Drivers of these cars must stay alert and be prepared to take over the driving at any moment.

Some commercially available cars today have Level 2 automation.

Level 3: Conditional driving automation

Cars with Level 3 automation are able to drive on their own without the help of a driver. However, that doesn’t mean a driver can go to sleep or completely ignore their vehicle.

These vehicles are considered the entry point of autonomous driving and have certain features that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel for longer periods of time. They can detect and respond to road and traffic conditions, giving them the ability to accelerate past slow-moving vehicles, for example.

No Level 3 vehicles are currently available to consumers in the U.S.

Level 4: High automation

These vehicles are fully capable of monitoring the vehicle and driver at all times, allowing for more automated driving functions. These cars can handle all driving capabilities for most routine routes and road conditions that are included with its operational design domain, which are currently limited to urban areas where speed limits don’t exceed 30 mph.

If there are unexpected environmental or road conditions, the vehicle will alert the driver to take control. If the driver doesn’t intervene, the vehicle is supposed to stop on its own to ensure driver safety.

Some taxi services are currently experimenting with Level 4 vehicles in the U.S., but none are available to consumers.

Level 5: Fully automated

When a vehicle has Level 5 automaton, it means that the car can do all of the driving without any input from a driver. They will not require a steering wheel or gas pedals. Instead, drivers might use voice commands to tell the car where to drive.

Level 5 vehicles are not currently available to the general public.

When will fully-automated vehicles become commercially available?

Despite the world’s car manufacturers collectively pouring billions of dollars into automated car technology, most experts believe that we’re still decades away from being able to drive a fully-automated vehicle off a dealership lot, but others are hopeful that this technology could be available sooner, perhaps sometime between 2030 and 2040.

This is partly due to questions about safety issues, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported that recent crashes of semi-autonomous cars have resulted in multiple fatalities and serious injuries. In fact, for the 10 months ending in May 2022, the NHTSA said there were 392 crashes, in which 11 people were seriously injured and 5 were killed.

The NHTSA said they expect the number of these accidents to continue increasing as more autonomous vehicles make their way onto our roads.

When to contact a California car accident attorney

While consumers are increasingly looking forward to self-driving vehicles, the technology still has a long way to go and is far from perfect. If you’re injured in an accident involving a self-driving car, there may be special considerations for a claim, and more than one party may be at fault.

You should contact an experienced car accident lawyer for guidance to ensure your rights are protected.

At MVP Accident Attorneys, our experienced personal injury attorneys will investigate your case and help prove liability to get you maximum compensation. Our firm has recovered millions of dollars for our clients across California and Texas, and we'd love to help you too.

Contact us today for your free, no-obligation consultation. There’s never a fee unless we win your case.


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Brett Sachs

Brett S. Sachs graduated from Michigan State University College of Law with Cum Laude Honors. While attending Michigan State, Brett was awarded for his service in the Michigan State University College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, where he represented prisoners of the Michigan Department of Corrections from injustices brought upon them. Learn more.

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