Is 2020 the year for Eyes-Off Automated Driving?
We are now seeing SAE Level 2 systems at the forefront of current introductions and upgrades from (mainly) upscale car brands. Cadillac Super Cruise, Nissan ProPilot 2.0, and BMW’s x5 Extended Traffic Jam Assistant all explicitly allow hands-off and verify via driver monitoring that the driver is doing his or her part scanning and reacting to the environment. Tesla and others require hands-on-wheel while providing some degree of lane centering support, but this might be limited to well-structured roads. Level 2 -- defined as “sustained control” of lateral and longitudinal control (steering and foot pedals, respectively) -- encompasses a wide range of steering support.
What Level 2 doesn't do, as I noted recently, is provide Object and Event Detection and Response (OEDR). This remains the driver’s job in Level 2. Level 3 features go the next step to provide sustained control plus OEDR. Level 3, or “conditional automation,” is mid-way in the driving automation spectrum. Level 3 Automated Driving Systems (ADS) handle the Dynamic Driving Task (DDT) within the defined Operational Design Domain (ODD). If the vehicle encounters conditions that pop it out of it’s ODD, that human in the driver’s seat is the “fallback” for maintaining safe operation. For example, a Level 3 Traffic Jam Pilot designed only for low-speed operation would exit its ODD when the vehicle’s speed increases as traffic clears. So, when deemed necessary, the Level 3 ADS issues a request for the “receptive fallback-ready user” to intervene and achieve a safe state. How to ensure this happens gracefully is a matter of system design; therefore, it is not specifically addressed in the SAE definitions. Level 4 takes the human out of the loop completely; the ADS itself is the fallback.
Because DDT and OEDR are being performed by the ADS, I refer to Level 3 as a system that allows “hands off, feet off, eyes off” with “brain on” so that hands, feet, and eyes are readily available.