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Self-Driving Cars: Some Semiautonomous Systems Carmakers Offer Today


Staggering in variety and volume, the carmaker terms describing technologies for self-driving cars are challenging to identify and track. Not to mention there are currently three levels of semiautonomous systems in play, according to the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers).

Here we will basically divide the different systems into two groups: Those featuring mostly Level 1 technologies and those including Level 2 technologies that approach Level 3.

Level With Me

As defined by SAE, the levels of automation referred to here are:

  • Level 1: Most functions are still controlled by the driver, but a specific function (steering or accelerating) can be done automatically by the car. These are independent systems like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
  • Level 2: At least one driver-assist system involving steering and one system involving acceleration/deceleration working together using sensor-gathered information about the surrounding driving environment are automated. At this level, the driver can be disengaged from physically operating the vehicle, with his or her hands theoretically off the steering wheel and foot off the pedals at the same time.
  • Level 3: Drivers are still required, but the vehicle can assume complete control under very specific traffic and environmental conditions. The driver can still intervene when necessary.

The Players of Levels 2 & 3

Here are the systems of some carmakers that currently lump assorted Level 2 and Level 3 technologies under one all-encompassing term. If you’re familiar with any of them, it’s more than likely Tesla’s Autopilot, which has been in the news recently for a number of reasons.

  • Tesla Autopilot — Tesla is currently using the eighth generation of its Autopilot software. Its capabilities include maintaining a safe speed based on speed limits and the speed of surrounding traffic, stopping and starting with traffic, lane keeping, lane changing, locating available parking spaces and self parking.
  • Nissan ProPilot — In July, Nissan announced its ProPilot system, combining single-lane automatic steering, accelerating and braking. Primarily a camera-based technology, it keeps track of traffic in front of it to hold a safe distance, maintains its lane and brakes when necessary, all automatically.
  • Nissan’s ProPilot 2.0 will allow for some hands-free driving (like Cadillac Super Cruise) as well as automated highway entry and exit and passing of other vehicles. We expect the technology to first show up in Nissan’s Ariya all-electric SUV.
  • Volvo Pilot Assist — Once engaged, Pilot Assist will use a camera and radar to maintain a preset distance from traffic in front of it, adjusting its speed as necessary. It will also steer the vehicle to stay within lane markings.
  • Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot — Found in the redesigned E-Class, Drive Pilot takes aim at Tesla’s Autopilot in its capabilities. It too can change lanes, steer within its lane, brake and accelerate with surrounding traffic, automatically adjust to changes in speed limits, come to a complete stop and restart, and park itself.
  • Audi Piloted Driving — Another system rivaling Autopilot, Piloted Driving can fully assume control of the car in speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. It can steer, brake, accelerate, change lanes and even park itself remotely.
  • BMW Active Driving Assistance — Another system stalking AutoPilot, Active Driving Assistance steers, brakes, accelerates and parks itself.
  • General Motors Super Cruise — Cadillac will be first to get this system, which offers all the automated controls of the more advanced autonomous systems with steering, braking, accelerating and so forth. Additionally, it will offer an eye-tracking technology to determine when the driver is disengaged. If the driver doesn’t respond to alerts, the car will pull over and stop.

The Players of Level 1

Every car brand has at least one or two driver-assistance technologies. After all, cruise control is such a technology. Most models have several available on upper-level trims or option packages. Several carmakers group these Level 1 technologies under one name. Most of their elements, however, take the form of alerts and warnings, like rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and lane-departure warning.

Level 1 technologies work separately from one another.

  • Acura AcuraWatch — Encompassing a huge array of warnings, AcuraWatch also includes lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation, forward-collision mitigation and braking, and adaptive cruise control.
  • Buick Driver Confidence Package 2 — In addition to several warnings, this Buick package features front pedestrian detection, front automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and automatic park assist.
  • Chrysler Advanced SafetyTec — A number of warnings are supplemented with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, auto high-beam headlights, and parallel and perpendicular park assist.
  • Honda Honda Sensing — Similar, but not as inclusive as Acura’s AcuraWatch, Honda Sensing offers adaptive cruise control and lane-departure mitigation in addition to its suite of automatic warnings.
  • Lexus Advanced Pre-Collison — It includes adaptive cruise control, driver-attention monitoring and collision-avoidance assist.
  • Mazda i-ACTIVSENSE — Offering a surprising number of driver-assist technologies, i-ACTIVSENSE features adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, auto high-beam headlights, Smart City Brake Support, Distance Recognition Support and Smart Brake Support.

These aren’t all-inclusive lists, but they do provide solid insight into the active driver-assist/safety technologies out there.

What it means to you: As technology for self-driving cars continues to advance, even more affordable brands will offer a range of semiautonomous systems.

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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