With such a current buzz around the development of increasingly autonomous vehicles, it becomes increasingly important to understand the nuances of the relevant terminology. Seemingly correlated with this need for better understanding is the difficulty of doing so; with many individuals and organisations using the wrong terms in conversation and documentation.
Garcia and Calatone (2002) established in their journal article that:
So what is the difference between autonomous and driverless vehicles?
'Autonomous' and 'driverless' are often used interchangeably by people, businesses and the media. There does, however, exist a slight but important difference between the two.
Simply; an autonomous vehicle is one that can drive itself, or perform certain driving functions unaided, but still requires a person behind a wheel (or in a position of control - who knows what a car's interior will be like in the future) able to take control when or if required.
A driverless vehicle is one that does not require a person in a position of control. Driverless vehicles do not have the hardware required for a person to assume control of the vehicle.
To demonstrate this inability for stakeholders to decide upon, and use common terms, not only are the terms autonomous and driverless used interchangeably, but so are the 'levels' of automation. Different organisations and governments across the developed world have classified autonomous and driverless vehicles in different ways.
There exists a scale of five levels of autonomy (read this techradar article for a simple run-down), but the UK Government chooses to simplify this further in their summary report and action plan in to vehicles with 'high automation' and 'full automation'
Driverless vehicles are more likely to be used as taxis and shuttles, whereas private vehicle ownership is likely to eventually be autonomous. Autonomous as opposed to driverless retains an onus of control on a vehicle owner, and is therefore currently seen as 'safer' in a physical and regulatory sense for governments and citizens.
Driverless 'pods' are being trialled in Milton Keynes this week!
Do not fret immediately however, it is estimated that highly autonomous vehicles (Levels 4/5) are not likely to be mainstream until past 2020. Tesla report that a level 4 autonomous vehicle will be available from them by 2018; this will be an early iteration and a vehicle for 'early adopters'.
Would you consider owning and using a highly autonomous vehicle as soon as 2020?
Garcia, R and Calatone, R (2002) "A critical look at technological innovation typology and innovativeness terminology: a literature review" Journal of Product Innovation Management, 19(2), pp110-132.
I'm a PhD student in the UK looking in to consumer innovation resistance toward autonomous vehicles. This will be a blog about both my research specifically and the wider autonomous vehicle landscape.