In 2003, the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched The Grand Challenge to spur the innovation of unmanned, remote controlled ground vehicles. This prize competition was the first of its kind. Below, you can see how results have improved over the three times the competition was held. The technologies developed for these competitions have undoubtedly supported and accelerated the progress we have seen within the autonomous vehicle industry.
As companies improve their technologies, they start promising specific levels of autonomy and ship dates to the public. Below you can see the promises these companies and startups have made. While some of these dates and autonomy levels are unrealistic, they tell us something about market expectations and pressure.
|Level of Autonomy||Description of Autonomy Level||Vehicle Example|
|5||Most autonomy. The vehicle performs as well as a human driver in any type of scenario.||Volkswagen Sedric|
|4||The vehicle controls "all safety-critical driving functions and monitors roadway conditions for an entire trip." Yet, the driver is still necessary in scenarios that are outside of the "operational design domain (ODD)."||Ford Fusion Hybrid|
|3||Middle autonomy. The driver is necessary, but in specific traffic or environmental conditions all "safety-critical functions" are controlled by the vehicle. The driver may need to intervene depending on the situation, but does not have to monitor as much as in the other levels. Many companies are considering skipping level 3 as it requires people to go from a state of inattentiveness to one of alertness very quickly.||Tesla Model S|
|2||The vehicle can gauge when to engage driver assistance systems based on its understanding of the driving environment. While not actively using hands or feet, the driver must always pay attention and be ready to take control of the vehicle at any time.||Mercedes-Benz E-Class|
|1||Least autonomy. The driver is still in control of most of the driving, but functions like steering or accelerating are controlled by the car.||Audi A7|