The Future is Now: What Exactly are Self-Driving Cars?

Technology is wonderful for many things: sending pictures, seeing who is on your doorstep, and preheating your oven before you get home. But, it can’t always be completely trusted–like in this episode of The Office.

See what we mean? While GPS has gotten us all where we wanted to go at one time or another, are we ready to turn the steering wheel over to a car’s brain completely? While turning ourselves over to GPS is a far cry from getting into a car and telling it to drive to Grandma’s house, technology is becoming more and more pervasive in our cars. Self-driving cars are no longer a dream of science fiction, they seem to be just around the corner.

There are two categories of self-driving cars:

  1. Driver Support
  2. Autonomous Systems

You are probably fairly familiar with driver support technology if you’ve ever used cruise control. Still, driver support technology has adapted and improved over the years. The seat might buzz if it senses you drifting from your lane, or the steering wheel does some self-correcting when it feels the car wandering.

Driver support isn’t just about driving. Music can be supportive, too! And the hands-free BlueTooth technology makes communicating as we drive even easier. Now we can call our mother (which you should probably do today, by the way) on our commute and skip that song that you’ve heard far too many times.

Driver support technology is designed to help the driver do their job more easily and effectively. An autonomous system has the goal of taking more responsibility from the driver and, eventually, driving completely independently. Before you start dreaming about taking a nap as your car drives you to work, let’s explore the different levels of autonomous systems as they exist today:

Level 0

Here, the car offers you no support at all, besides a cheerful reminder as some moral support. It might beep or sound an alarm if there is a car in the next lane or you are wandering off, but the car can’t correct you, just give you a little nudge to do it yourself.

Level 1

Now your car is entering nosy in-law status. You are still completely in charge, but it might intervene just a little. This is the technology that can steer you back to the center of the lane if it senses you wandering. But, unlike an in-law, it isn’t judging you, just kindly assisting you.

Level 2

This is as high as we currently have in the American market. Level Two takes it to the level of multiple systems that can talk to each other. For example, the car can bring you back to the center of the lane as well as keep you at a safe distance from the car in front of you when using cruise control. While this is handy, you still need your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. Minor distractions might not be as dangerous, but you aren’t in an auto-pilot car of the future quite yet.

Level 3

Some Level Three vehicles are available for lease internationally but are still not approved in America. These cars can drive themselves in limited conditions, such as backed-up traffic, but cannot drive themselves on the highway. They allow the driver to take their hands off the wheel when backed up and not moving much. Maybe just enough time for that Sudoku game!

Level 4

This level does mean the driver can take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road on frequently traveled routes. It takes some programming but could work well for a regular commute. Still, manual override is possible, and the driver will need to take over the wheel if heading on a new route or unknown route. That’s a good thing since it lowers your chances of ending up in a lake.

Level 5

Level Five cars are fully autonomous, and, unfortunately, you won’t find them in any car dealerships in Utah or anywhere else–at least not yet. However, they’re getting closer to reality year by year.

This is the self-driving car we imagine, where you plug in your destination, pop in a movie, and watch the miles go by without a worry. A Level Five self-driving car is completely automated, with no driver input needed to maneuver in traffic, adjust speed, and reroute as needed. It’s an amazing idea, and we’re excited to introduce our customers to these fully autonomous cars some day soon. But first, the great minds will hopefully figure out how to make it easier to open those produce bags at the grocery store.

What about Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” Features?
If you own a Tesla, or are looking into buying one, you’re probably wondering where their “full self-driving” claim fits in. After all, their Autopilot Suite of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems allows their cars to navigate highways, city streets, and neighborhoods. They can engage your turn signal, exit the freeway at just the right place, move into the adjacent lane (when you engage the turn signal), detect traffic lights and stop as appropriate, move your vehicle in and out of cramped parallel parking spaces, and more!

Right now, you’ll still need to pay attention to the road and keep one hand on the steering wheel when driving even the newest Tesla iterations, so they don’t fit the strict definition of fully autonomous. However, Tesla maintains that their technologies are quickly becoming more capable and that they have equipped their cars with the software and hardware to become fully self-driving in the future.

At TJ Chapman, we’re proud to sell more rebuilt Teslas than any other dealer in the country. When you come into our rebuilt title car dealership in Utah, we can help you get in on this exciting technology that is quickly building toward Level Five cars.

Until we’re fully there, it is important to remember that the most important thing you do in a car is to drive it. While changing the music, buying movie tickets, and calling your mother (seriously, how long has it been since you talked to her?) are wonderful, keep those eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and no matter what GPS says. . . do not drive into a lake.