- The engineering group SAE International has updated its Levels of Driving Automation chart with more definitions for the Level 3 and Level 4 autonomous systems, which are in the upper end toward fully self-driving in the famous chart.
- The basic framework remains the same, with six distinct levels from 0 to 5 between a car that can't handle any self-driving tasks and one that's fully capable of autonomous movement.
- New rules for remote driving—because that's a thing that's coming—were also updated.
The way the auto industry officially defines the varying levels of driver assistance technology, from absolutely nothing to full self-driving cars, is getting an update. These six levels that the organizing bodies for these terms, SAE International and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), first started defining in 2014 are being changed to include remote technologies and other clarifications.
The six levels, which range from Level 0 to Level 5, are technically known as J3016 and can be slightly confusing because they are sometimes talked about as if they are simply different levels of actual autonomous vehicles. The extremes are easy to understand, with Level 0 meaning there is nothing in the car that will ever take control of any of the car's movement functions and Level 5 meaning full autonomy. It's the middle steps that are a bit more blurred. To help keep the levels defined, the SAE and ISO are making it clearer that the first three levels (L0, L1, and L2) should be referred to as "Driver Support Systems," while L3, L4 and L5 are used for actual "Automated Driving Systems."
The new update doesn't dramatically change the structure of the previous collection. In fact, the chart that the SAE uses as a bit of a cheat sheet for the different levels has remained exactly the same since it was last updated in 2019, but there are new clarifications for the industry to use.
The biggest changes are in what defines the Level 3 and Level 4 systems. The definitions have been clarified to note that there might be some automated fallback at L3, while at L4 there is the possibility of some alerts to in-vehicle users.
There are also changes when it comes to human-in-the-loop systems, with the new terminologies finding room for the remote technologies and naming the people who might be involved in controlling a vehicle from afar: remote assistant and remote driver. A remote driver, for example, could be someone who monitors the pathway of a vehicle trying to park remotely, and makes sure the car is "responsive to pedestrians and obstacles." A remote assistant, on the other hand, could be someone who "provides remote assistance to an [automated driving system]-equipped vehicle in driverless operation."
The chairperson of the SAE J3016 Technical Standards Committee, Barbara Wendling, said this week's updates are to be expected considering how fast autonomous vehicle technology is advancing. "As the development of automated driving technologies continues on a global scale, SAE J3016: Levels of Driving Automation has evolved to align with the developing technologies and deployment strategies," she said in a statement. In other words, we won't be surprised when the SAE updates these definitions once again in the future.