I’m following the evolution of the self-driving technologies with a lot of interest. Many automotive companies say that by 2020/2022 they will commercialize autonomous cars that will reach the level 4 or 5 of the SAE International Automated Driving standards.
Below the table that is commonly adopted by all the automotive industry.
Wired points the level 3 human problem in a very clear way: humans are not capable to maintain their attention if they are not interested or required to. For simplifying, a crash in self-driving mode cannot be avoided thanks to the intervention of the driver that in the meanwhile could be reading a newspaper or watching a video. Humans are just too slow and in that case even too distracted for recognizing the risk and avoiding a crush.
Driving automation level 4 and 5 instead eliminate completely the driver intervention taking the complete control of the car. In this situation safety and driving efficiency will be maximized, especially if the single car, van or truck will be integrated in a transportation system where vehicles and infrastructures work together.
The technical “human problem” of the level 3 in my opinion isn’t the only human-based problem. Talking about the common buyers, that are not the Tesla’s ones, self-driving cars will need an interface that inspires the users trust and then, what about the driving pleasure? For many people driving isn’t just mobility, but the pleasure of controlling a mechanical machine that feels different from all the others. Then there’s the maintainance problem: how will react the owners when they realize that advanced technologies like the autonomous ones will require continuous updates and a shorter life-cycle?
Personally I think that autonomous driving is the second most relevant mass mobility innovation after the Model T, not because it will free the contemporary drivers from the driving task, but because it will create new mobility and business patterns. Today who best interpreted this shift for me is Ford that from being a Car Company is moving to be a Mobility Company (watch the video on FastCompany).