The 6 Levels of Autonomous Driving and The Future of Autonomous Cars in China

From Level 0 to Level 5 automation, autonomous cars are racing toward a near future of self-driving vehicles and China wants to win the race.
Susan Fourtané

Autonomous driving is changing the face of the automotive industry. The long-term impact will be profound. New partnerships and ecosystems created around technologies and services are paving the road for the exciting years ahead. Earlier this month, China was the playground where two industry leaders announced their agreement.

Baidu’s President, Ya-Qin Zhang, and Swedish auto manufacturer Volvo Cars CEO, Håkan Samuelsson discussed their partnership , autonomous driving, and the future of AI cities at Baidu World 2018 in Beijing, China. 

Baidu and Volvo Cars have agreed to jointly develop electric and fully autonomous drive-compatible cars with the aim of mass producing them for China, the largest car market in the world.

Baidu, one of Forbes' World's Most Innovative Companies 2018, is the leading Chinese Internet search provider. The Swedish company, which aims to be the supplier of choice for mobility companies globally, is the first foreign car maker to collaborate with Baidu. 

Baidu chose Volvo Cars because of its long-standing safety credentials in the automotive industry. Badu will contribute its Apollo autonomous driving platform and Volvo will provide the company's expertise and advanced technologies to the partnership which seems to possess a winning formula in the self-driving vehicles industry. 

Volvo and Baidu team up to manufacture autonomous cars

Volvo Cars and Baidu announce they are jointly going to manufacture autonomous cars in 2021. Source: Volvo 

“With Baidu we take a big step forward in commercializing our autonomous-compatible cars, built on Volvo’s industry-leading safety technology,” said Håkan Samuelsson, President and Chief Executive of Volvo Cars. “There is a strong development in autonomous drive in China, where Baidu is a leading player, and the market there offers huge opportunities for us as the supplier of choice for autonomous fleets.”

“Since its founding a century ago, Volvo has kept safety as its core mission, pushing safety development forward with significant innovations. We are very glad that Volvo Cars has established a strategic partnership with Baidu in the development of a fully autonomous car compatible with our autonomous driving platform, Apollo. We look forward to working closely with Volvo to provide the world with the safest auto-products for the benefit of humankind,” said Dr. Ya-Qin Zhang, President of Baidu, during the event.

Autonomous cars: The global market in 2040 

According to the latest Autonomous Vehicle Sales Forecast from IHS Markit published in February 2018, the global sales of autonomous cars will increase from 51,000 units in 2021 to 33 million in 2040.  

The United States market will see the first initial deployment and early adoption of autonomous vehicles as early as 2019. Europe and China will begin adding considerable volume from 2021 onward. Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is going to bring autonomous vehicles to the masses before individual ownership in the form of autonomous taxi services and share rides. 

According to Egil Juliussen, Ph.D. and director of automotive technology research at IHS Markit, the first autonomous vehicle volumes --beyond retrofit test vehicles-- will arrive in 2019 through driverless mobility services. "Volumes will surpass 51,000 units in 2021, when personally owned autonomous cars reach individual buyers for the first time, and IHS Markit forecasts estimates nearly 1 million units will be sold in 2025 across shared fleets and individual owned cars."  

Autonomous cars: The Chinese market in 2040 

China is likely to become the single largest market for self-driving cars in the coming decades. Research firm IHS Markit predicts that China will sell an estimated 14.5 million autonomous cars by 2040, on a total global volume of around 33 million units. 

China to become the world's biggest market for self-driving cars

According to IHS, mobility services have already taken hold in many Chinese cities. Driverless vehicles are expected to remain popular with consumers. The automotive and technology industries are closing the gap in sectors including autonomous driving and artificial intelligence (AI).

IHS expects that regulations on autonomous vehicles testing and deployment are going to be in place soon. This is going to provide clarity for the industry as China reaches 14.5 autonomous vehicles sales in 2040, according to IHS' analysts. 

The 6 Levels of Autonomous Driving and The Future of Autonomous Cars in China


The six levels of autonomous driving

Auto manufacturers including Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi, and others are working toward Level 5 of autonomous driving. Progressively, car makers are adding more autonomous features to their vehicles. Soon after 2020, autonomy driving is going to be complete. To get familiar with the different levels of autonomy driving as the automotive industry reaches the Level 5 goal, here is a summary of each level of automation:

Level 0: No automation

The majority of the cars on the road today belong to this category. The human driver is in full charge of all and every aspect of the dynamic driving tasks. The car perhaps is enhanced by warning or intervention systems, but the human driver has all the control to make the decisions.

Level 1: Driver Assistance

In a vehicle with Level 1 autonomy, the human driver is in control of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment. The human driver is expected to perform the remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task, covering radar-based cruise control.

Level 2: Partial Automation

Driving Mode controls both the steering and acceleration/deceleration. The human driver performs the remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task being responsible for changing lanes, exiting freeways, and making turns.

Level 3: Conditional Automation

The vehicle's Automated Driving System monitors the driving environment controlling the acceleration, braking, and steering. The human driver is in control, however, needs to respond appropriately to a request to intervene.

Level 4: High Automation

The system controls all aspects of the driving tasks. This includes situations in which the human driver doesn't respond appropriately when requested to intervene. Both Ford and Volvo are going to offer a Level 4 car by 2021

Level 5: Full Automation

The Automated Driving System is in operation full time. All aspects of the dynamic driving tasks under all roadway and environmental conditions are autonomous. Automakers have not yet set a timeline for when exactly fully self-driving cars will come to market. With a Level 5 car, you are going to be able to set the destination, lay back, and relax while the car takes you safely. Or you can use the time efficiently and prepare for a meeting, make calls, answer emails, or take a nap while your car does the driving.

Autonomous driving, defined as Level 4 (L4) and Level 5 (L5) functionality, is going to create new in-vehicle user experiences as well as prompting connected services which will support use cases. All in all, we can expect exciting times ahead within the automotive industry. 

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