Autonomous driving is an innovation set to transform the automotive world in the future. With this technology in place, people won’t have to worry about the driving – they’ll simply leave it all up to the machine. Road traffic will become smoother and safer, as computers won’t be distracted by phone calls or chatting with passengers.

A variety of features delivering partial driving automation are already available – you may well be using them every day without realising that they are the springboard for full automation in the future.

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You may be asking yourself what stage we’re at. An internationally recognised scale from zero to five defines exactly how capable a vehicle is of autonomous operation. This system of levels has been devised by SAE International (the Society of Automotive Engineers), an organisation grouping together professionals in the aviation, automotive and transport industries.

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no automation

Most of today’s vehicles. The driver has full control of the vehicle and all its functions. At most, the vehicle provides various warnings and alerts, such as the cold weather indicator to warn the driver of black ice at temperatures around zero.

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driver assistance

Adaptive cruise control that maintains a steady speed and a safe distance from the cars ahead – this is a typical example of Level 1. The car’s electronics make limited interventions in the driving, e.g. to make the vehicle accelerate, slow down or turn gently, but the car is always restricted to one function at a time (it can’t combine them). A whole host of systems like this can be found in ŠKODAs today. Besides the above, for example, there is Lane Assist (a system to keep the car in the correct lane) and Front Assist (a collision prevention system).

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partial automation

Otherwise known as “feet off the pedals, eyes on the road”. Basically, the car can perform the functions described under Level 1, and in doing so is able to combine them. For example, it can automatically accelerate or slow down while turning the steering wheel at the same time. Even so, the driver must be ready to take over instantly at any moment. Automatic parking is a typical example at this level.

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conditional automation

The system can assume full control of the vehicle in certain circumstances. A typical example would be a relatively straight, wide motorway with properly marked lanes. Drivers don’t need to have their hands on the wheel and, if they’re feeling brave enough, they can even take their eyes off the road, but they must still be poised to take over the driving if prompted by the system. The autopilot automatically accelerates, steers, slows down and even dodges obstacles on a motorway. Level 3 autonomous driving was targeted in the 2017 VISION E, ŠKODA’s near-future concept car, which was the brand’s first fully electric-powered car.

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high automation

While drivers have the option of controlling these vehicles themselves, this is by no means necessary. Apart from exceptional circumstances, such as very bad weather or heavy snowfall, the vehicle can deal with everything itself – and that includes a situation where drivers fail to respond to its prompt for them to take over the driving (in this case, it brings the car to a safe stop).

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full automation

No steering wheel is needed as the car can handle any situation. The only thing “humans” have to do is get into the car and specify where they want to go.

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“At ŠKODA, we’re already working on Level 4”

One of ŠKODA’s people working on the future of autonomous driving is Robert Pěnička, Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Airbag Electronics Coordinator.

The automotive world has reached Level 2 automation. What’s next?
Technologies meeting Level 3 automation definitions and requirements are already available, but we’re still waiting for legislation to catch up. That’s why you don’t see these systems being offered by carmakers. So it’s not entirely up to the industry to decide when we will start seeing them on the road. Legislation licensing the sale and operation of such systems must come first.

Legislation aside, what other problems need to be solved?
Functional safety is a key aspect. In the world we inhabit today, a driver-caused accident is a seen as a sad, but ordinary part of life. A machine-caused accident, however, would be a scandal that could undermine users’ trust now and for years to come, so the technology must be configured with reserves to manage all possible causes of malfunctions.

For example, the energy source, the brake system, the steering – all these have to be backed up. One of the reasons why various technologies sensing the vehicle’s surroundings are combined is to compensate for the physical limits of any one system. And obviously, complex, backed-up technology means that another problem is cost, by which I mean the cost of the manufacturer’s investments and the price of the system concerned. As customers may be put off by the final price, we need to look for suitable business models, too.

R.Penicka
Robert Pěnička

Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems and Airbag Electronics Coordinator

When will we see progress in autonomous systems in ŠKODA vehicles?
At the Technological Development Department, we are currently exploring and working on technologies for automated driving functions. Some of them are at Level 4 automation. However, as making the right decision when to deploy them is a complex task, the company is fully engaged in producing the inputs required for this decision.

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