The Levels of Automation were supposed to be for engineers.
But the numeric scale that describes the capabilities of various driver-assistance and autonomous-driving systems — which runs from Level 0 to Level 5 automation — has spread beyond its initial audience. Created by SAE International, it's now referenced far and wide by industry executives, government officials and others.
Trouble is, the Levels of Automation are pretty wonky. For ordinary motorists, they can cause confusion.
The time has come for a consumer-friendly counterpart, says Phil Koopman, co-founder and chief technology officer at Pittsburgh-based Edge Case Research, which advises companies on autonomous-vehicle testing and safety validation.
"The SAE levels are very actionable for engineers, but not particularly actionable for normal, everyday drivers," he tells Automotive News. "If we want to communicate clearly so people don't take their eyes off the road when they're not supposed to, we need a more streamlined way."
Along those lines, Koopman has proposed new terminology intended to more clearly communicate the driver's role in safe travel. In a blog post published last week, he suggests four new categories for classification: Assistive, Supervised, Automated and Autonomous.
Each category clarifies what role the human motorist has in the active driving process, whether the human or machine is responsible for overall vehicle operations, and perhaps most novel, outlines when drivers need to keep their eyes on the road and act as backups.
Beyond the conventional levels, Koopman also proposes determining how overall safety is achieved beyond the driving task. For one example, who or what assures the kids are buckled into car seats?
"The SAE levels say nothing about all the safety-relevant tasks a human driver does beyond actual driving," Koopman wrote.