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Jul 11, 2018,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

Autonomous cars, autopilot, driver assistance… what are the differences?

The diversity of technologies developed and variety of terminologies used by automotive manufacturers to advertise their smart cars can lead to some degree of confusion. To give you some clarity, here is an overview of the six categories of classification seen as benchmarks by most of those involved in the sector.

Driverless, smart and autonomous cars, driver assistance, automated functions… With technology playing an increasing role in vehicles, it can be difficult to understand the various levels of autonomy in the models currently being developed or already available, particularly when manufacturers are designing different systems themselves.


Six categories widely adopted around the world


To get a better overview, French website Numerama has provided an explanation of what each of the six levels of autonomy in the classification devised by the US organisation SAE International actually means. The grid, with levels from 0 to 5, has been widely adopted by all of those involved in the sector around the world.

Regardless of what automotive brands may feature in their advertising, the only real autonomous vehicles are ones that can drive in completely safety without human intervention. This is the case with category 4 and 5 cars which enable their occupants to travel without paying any attention whatsoever to the road and what is happening on it.


"High autonomy" but not everywhere


The only difference between the two top levels is the environment in which the full autonomy can be used. Class 5 (full autonomy) cars are operational in all circumstances while for those in class 4 (high autonomy), this is only the case in certain contexts, for example on motorways.

Smart models in category 3 (conditional autonomy) can drive alone but the technology with which they are equipped can require intervention at any moment from the driver, who therefore cannot turn their attention away from the road.


Aid does not mean that vigilance is not required


Classes 0 – 2 mean that even if control of the vehicle can be simplified, the driver is in charge of it, and must manage and react to the environment. While level 0 models have no driver aids, level 1 indicates the presence on board of assistance technology, notably for steering, acceleration and braking.

A class-2 car is equipped with more advanced technologies which enable the driver not to have to intervene at all in certain aspects of driving, but whilst maintaining their full attention at all times. The Tesla Autopilot therefore is at this level since the driver does not have the right to let go of the steering wheel.


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