Following my recent article on the (new) economy of self-driving cars, I recently came across BMW's autonmous vehicle program, in which they broke down autonomous driving into 5 levels. I'll try and summarize these levels and also include my take on each.
Level 1 - Driver Assisted
There is still a driver but she gets a lot of help from AI. In fact, this level of autonomous driving already exists in most luxury cars. Think park-assist or lane-assist technologies that exists today in most luxury brand models. If this already exists, one begins to wonder why people still doubt that AI is here. In fact there is this long standing joke in the AI community that once AI solves a very hard problem, like park-assist, then it no longer becomes AI - meaning AI might just continue to chase it's tail forever. The danger in this of course is that AI can creep up upon us like a thief in the night taking over our lives (jobs e.t.c.) without humanity realizing it until it is too late.
Level 2 - Partly Autonomous
This increases the level of AI and decreases human input compared to level 1. Examples include brake assist where your car (AI really) applies its brakes even when (or before) you did not plan to. For example, due to an incoming vehicle you did not see coming. Another example is the blind spot assist. Again, like level 1, This is already becoming standard in most vehicles to the point people hardly think it is AI but it is!
Level 3 - Highly Autonomous
This is where AI turns in the gear (pun intended) and begins to operate the vehicle for extended periods of time. Again, an easy example that comes to mind for this is cruise control that has now become standard in most vehicles. Think about this a little bit more. Cruise control is advanced AI and has been around for years!
Level 4 - Full Automation
This is where we begin to talk the future. Full automation involves cars actually driving themselves with little or no influence from the driver. Of course, there will still be a driver, just as we still have pilots in today's airplanes that can be largely flown on auto pilot. However, such a car does not yet exist - at least in mass production - but is expected to this decade (more on this in the part 3 of my series on AI predictions for this decade. Again, just like the airplane scenario, the human driver can always request control back from the vehicle's AI in the case of an emergency or other unusual circumstance.
Level 5 - Fully Automated
This might sound similar to level 4, but it's quite different. This is the level of the robot taxi where no human driver is needed and actually what most people mean when they say AI today is not yet intelligent. Clearly, this is the holy grail of autonomous driving but in my opinion, will not come this decade but probably the next.
So that is it. The 5 levels of autonomous driving as described by the car maker BMW itself. What do you think?