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Written by: Ameilya Hulsey, East Tennessee Clean Fuels intern

Have you ever heard of autonomous vehicles (AVs)? If not, you’re in the right place!

What are autonomous vehicles and how are they different?

The University of Michigan states that “AVs use technology to partially or entirely replace the human driver in navigating a vehicle from an origin to a destination while avoiding road hazards and responding to traffic conditions.”

The National Conference of State Legislature (NCLS) states that autonomous vehicles have “the potential to revolutionize transportation mobility and safety.”

This is because, “AVs use combinations of technologies and sensors to sense the roadway, other vehicles, and objects on and along the roadway”, according to the University of Michigan.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) created a widely accepted classification system from levels 0-5 in which they categorize vehicles from “no automation” to “full automation”; full automation being a self-driving vehicle and its counterpart being driven by a human. This scale is useful because of the wide range of automation levels, such as lane assist features to fully self-driving capabilities in the future.

Where can you find them?

There are multiple levels of autonomous vehicles on the market currently.

According to SAE’s classification system, level 1 is categorized as vehicles with driver assistance.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that “driver assistance technologies are designed to warn you if you’re at risk of an impending crash, while others are designed to take action to avoid a crash.”

They also mention that these features can be collision warning, collision intervention such as automatic emergency braking, and driving control assistance like lane centering functions.

As the levels increase on the classification system, so do the autonomous driving capabilities of the vehicle. You may notice that your own vehicle has these features within its hardware.

An example of a vehicle with level 2 driving capabilities is considered the Tesla Model 3 with autopilot hardware.

J.D. Power states, “It is a level 2 autonomous system that requires the driver to pay significant attention to the road ahead and have at least one hand touching the steering wheel.”

Tesla states that they intend to keep progressing in vehicle autonomy capabilities and “as Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving capabilities evolve, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates.”

Other cars such as the 2022 Acura ILX, 2022 BMW X1 and 2022 Buick Enclave are also considered to be level 2 autonomous vehicles.

Currently, the market has not surpassed level 2 autonomous vehicle production, but Slash Gear states that “Mercedes-Benz is the world’s first automaker to gain internationally valid regulatory approval in producing vehicles capable of Level 3 autonomous or ‘conditionally automated’ driving.”

However, there have been multiple fully autonomous public shuttles available recently such as the Mines Rover in Colorado and HART SMART AV in Tampa Bay, Florida. These shuttles travel on a set route and have a set speed of 12 and 15 mph respectively depending on their environment. These shuttles have been able to reduce conjunction and improve connectivity within the communities.

Even with the advances in technology related to autonomous vehicles, having a fully self-driving personal car will not be a reality in 2022 because of legislation and current technology, but many car manufacturers are making strides in their ability to get closer to a fully autonomous personal vehicle.

Contrarily, public autonomous vehicles such as the shuttles mentioned above have proven to be a safe and affordable transportation method on their designated routes and are projected to increase in our communities in the coming years.