The 5-6 Levels of Autonomous Mobility

In this short article I would like to fill the levels of autonomous mobility with a little more life. By the time you read this, you will surely have encountered diagrams such as the following sketching the five levels (sometimes six, including the “zero”) of autonomous driving:


Let’s bring more grip to these dry level descriptions. If you want to jump straight to a later level or the conclusion, go ahead:
Level 1 | Level 2 | Level 3 | Level 4 | Level 5 | (Interim) Conclusion

Level 0: No Automation

Level 0 is what you probably learned in driving school. Probably in a VW Golf whose highest electrotechnical achievement was the cassette deck. The driver was responsible for the entire control system. The gearbox had a maximum of four gears (plus reverse). They also cranked up a lot when parking, braking was a violent act, starting on the mountain was horrible. Driving was still real work! It is possible that your driving school days were so long ago that you didn’t even have to put on a seat belt because it simply didn’t exist yet – the installation obligation for such belts has only existed since 1974. The entire design of the car was oriented firstly to give the owner a feeling of freedom, independence and secondly not to break apart while driving.

Level 1: Driver Assistance Systems

In level 1 towards automation, the first supporting functions were added to the standard equipment. These included power steering, brake boosters, ABS systems, which made it possible to steer the car even when braking in dangerous situations, and driving dynamics controls for stabilizing driving dynamics such as ESP and ASR, which have been mandatory for new cars since 2014. The bottom line is that these are all minor optimizations that above all reduce the energy required by the driver. The exterior design hadn’t changed, the interior suddenly had more buttons in the cockpit – and perhaps a CD player.

Level 2: Partial Automation

This level may seem familiar to you if you usually travel with mid-range vehicles, because vehicles of this development stage will be the most common in 2018. You don’t even ask about ABS, ESP, power steering, etc. when you buy a car, they are standard equipment. Your vehicle probably has cruise control, with which you can transfer control of the speed to the system. In case you’re living in Germany, you’re most probably still driving a self-switch without automatic transmission (German statistics from 2011). But you probably already benefit from the automatic dipping rear-view mirror and high beam, may have an automatic start-stop system and perhaps also a permanently integrated navigation and entertainment system. A few dozen sensors are already installed in your car, analysing the surroundings and activating the windscreen wipers, darkening the passive lighting in the interior when it gets dark outside, and adapting the outside lights to the route. The same goes for the steering, which counteracts or at least vibrates when you leave the lane without flashing beforehand. If you look tired, your car will persuade you to take a break and initiate emergency braking if something appears in your route – I hope you are not familiar with this feature from your own experience. At the very least, however, your car will protest loudly if you have overlooked another vehicle in the blind spot. A growing proportion of cars are also connected to the Internet, for example to integrate current traffic reports into the navigation system or to send operating data to manufacturers or emergency centres. Combined, all these functions lead to passages in which the feeling of automated driving can be simulated for at least a few seconds when driving on a motorway. Cruise control and Lane Assistant and the automatic spacer work well until the system reminds you to put your hands back on the wheel.

Even in this evolutionary level of the car, there are no fundamental changes in the exterior and interior design. Depending on the manufacturer, the design changes, because the exterior shapes move from angular to rounded, SUVs are an integral part of the cityscape and traffic accident statistics. The interior as a whole is more comfortable than ever, the fabrics more elegant, the seats more comfortable and even in small cars the legroom greater. Some mid-range vehicles even allow the front seats to be reset to the horizontal position when the vehicle is stationary (of course only possible when nobody is sitting at the rear), while some offer a massage function at an extra charge.

Level 3: Conditional Automation

Under good weather and road conditions, autonomy is a decisive step further in level 3. Especially in slow traffic, the first Level 3-capable vehicles are already faster than any human driver because they leave the human reaction time behind. The on-board computer far exceeds the computing power of our standard company PCs. It permanently calculates all possible entry scenarios in order to be able to react in fractions of a second in the event of an actual occurrence. Most media unfortunately only report about fatal or at least devastating accidents with the help of “autonomous” vehicles from Uber or Tesla, which statistically barely happen in practice (with all due respect for the victims!). There is also a long list of good examples, google “autonomous car prevents crash” and in case of doubt convince yourself of the incredible performance of today’s systems. Be that as it may, in the manuals of level 3 vehicles and purely for regulatory purposes the permanent attention of the human driver is required. In the USA, however, the legislation is now being adapted with a view to the future (report from October 4) to clear the way for self-driving cars. Ford, for example, has announced that it will skip level 3 completely and move directly to the next level.

Level 4: High Automation

In this level, scenarios such as the following become reality for the first time: The car asks where to go, you say the destination, put on the seat belt – and off you go. The vehicle starts independently, sets off on the route and steers autonomously to its destination. It recognizes all traffic signs and observes the rules attached to them precisely, accelerates appropriately and brakes automatically if a vehicle in front is slower or stops. In unsafe situations, however, it will still notify you and demand your intervention. However, it is now perfectly okay if you sit back and read a book, work on the customer presentation for the appointment at the destination or enjoy a meal in peace. The interior, however, remains largely unchanged; two front seats, a rear bench seat, possibly more interactive elements in the entertainment screen and perhaps an on-board system with the most popular Netflix movies here and there.

And at this point, the inclined entrepreneur will think: We can suddenly make completely new worlds of use possible! Yes, exactly! If the occupant sitting near the steering wheel, which is still there, no longer has to devote 100% of his attention to road traffic and the control of the vehicle surrounding him, it quickly becomes boring. The first concept vehicles in this segment already have swivelling front seats and, for example, a table in the middle where the occupants can play cards, eat or work together. Another obvious use case is to use autonomous delivery vehicles. Once they have been loaded in the warehouse or at the production site, they independently drive to the destination address and can be opened via customer interfaces. Sounds theoretical? Domino’s pizza delivery service is already doing it today:

And with this we are saying goodbye to our classic understanding of mobility. Goodbye, human drivers and thanks for the fish!

Level 5: Complete Automation

This will be the completed level of automation. Please say goodbye to the following components of car driving:

  • steering wheel
  • Gas and brake pedals
  • Rear and side mirrors
  • Classic cockpit components (turn signal, windscreen wiper lever, fuel gauge…)

And even more. Get used to the fact that the self-propelled capsules are suddenly possible in completely different manifestations. Of course, there will continue to be smaller vehicles that carry one or more passengers as Robo-Taxi. In addition, there will be larger vessels (from a transport science point of view for transport units), which will transform applications into mobile business models:

  • the moving office contains comfortable, productivity-enhancing seats and has enough sockets for your mobile office. Of course, a sufficiently large desk should not be missing, perhaps even a flipchart / whiteboard / smartboard if you are planning a productive session with colleagues. You can unlock the minibar with a corresponding code. All windows contain LEDs that are transparent as needed, completely darken, show a presentation or any video. The worktop incorporates hologram technology to project 3D models into the room. This environment does not fit into an average mid-range car, but will rather resemble a small Multivan. In the trunk there is of course enough space for the luggage of the business travellers.
  • If you enter a moving hotel room and close the door behind you, you will not be able to tell the difference at first glance from a 4 or 5 star hotel room today. You will find a small workplace with a chair, a comfortable bed with a bedside table and a small bathroom. The use case fits for the over 180 million business trips in 2017 (source), especially those overnight and early in the morning: get in the evening, fall asleep, arrive at the hotel dock and enjoy the continental breakfast before you can go to the appointment completely relaxed.


(Interim) conclusion

Incidentally, business model ideas of this kind are not conceived by futurologists, but by entrepreneurs. We then ask the follow-up questions:

  • what does the entry of self-driving vehicles mean for the aviation industry or for the hotel industry? What does it mean for vehicle sales, what does it mean for the insurance industry, which suddenly no longer serves end customers but almost exclusively fleet operators, and suddenly also insures damage to or service defects caused by hotel interiors?
  • What infrastructure and networking of equipment is required for autonomous mobility? Which antenna technologies are necessary, which software and deep learning algorithms are used, why do distributed ledger technologies such as Blockchain, Tangle and Hashgraph lead directly into an autonomous economy in which machines will soon trigger the majority of financial transactions?
  • What other business model applications are there for other industries?

I hope this article offers you for now “food for thought”, a lot of approaches for a transfer into your environment. If you are not tired yet, I would like to recommend the think tank “Rethink Mobility”. This is the independent place where tomorrow’s strategies and business models are developed – value-free, cross-industry and concrete. The first meeting of the think tank will take place on 16 and 17 January 2019 and will be accompanied by the scientific trend research of 2b AHEAD and moderated by experienced consultants.

PS: If you want to travel to the pioneers of autonomous systems, you can of course travel to the west of the USA – that’s what most people would do. I find China more exciting. This medium article “Breakdown of self-driving car industry in China” deals with which companies are worth seeing.