Designing, building, testing and finally putting on the market a vehicle that embodies all the features required to define completely autonomous driving: this is the aim of all the most important company involved in the automotive industry. Substantial investments have been already made to realize the ultimate dream: a completely self-driven car, that doesn’t need any human action to accomplish its tasks, being totally able to manage itself and all the issues relating to the road circulation.
Currently, the process has not yet reached its conclusion: with some degree of approximation, we can say that we’re halfway there, or just a little less than that. But some encouraging signals reveal that we are about to witness a strong acceleration, like when a vehicle overcomes the inertial load resistance and starts to ride on the higher gears. Metaphors aside, this means that, once the automotive industry has accomplished the first stages of approach to autonomous driving, the following ones, though more complicated and technologically elaborated, should be much easier to reach.
Which are those stages? According to OICA (Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs Automobiles, International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers), there are five different phases that hopefully will lead to the building of a fully autonomous vehicle. The first two have been already accomplished, while the third one is about to become reality. The last two, finally, are still just on paper, but at the same time they don’t look like a foolish utopia anymore. Let’s see what they are.
Stage 1: Hands On. The driver is still in control, though assisted by an automatic system that provides him help for many tasks.
Stage 2: Hands On/Hands Off. The system is capable to provide for an automatic drive, but it still needs a driver’s strict supervision, especially in critical cases, when a quick and unpredictable decision is required.
Stage 3: Eyes Off. In some specific situations, the driver is not forced to oversee the driving system. He just has to guarantee his presence and his immediate availability to get back in control of the vehicle, in case of need.
Stage 4: Mind Off. The driver can get to the point of cutting his supervision from the driving system, unless the latter doesn’t make an explicit request for it.
Stage 5: Driverless. The human driver is finally disappeared: every human inside the vehicle is now converted into a simple passenger.
How many years will it take to reach the final goal? The most reliable rumours upcoming from within the automotive industry have set the year 2024 as the benchmark for stage three’s accomplishment and stage four’s beginning. But, as stated before, the time schedule seems about to speed up. In any case, it’s a matter of fact by now, that this is just a matter of time. It doesn’t matter how many years it will take: autonomous driving is about to become reality.