Look Ma, no hands. But the driver, steering wheel and pedals must remain in situ for a while longer.

Look Ma, no hands. But the driver, steering wheel and pedals must remain in situ for a while longer.

We are hearing more about the opportunities for artificial intelligence (AI) in autonomous vehicles (AVs). Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of research snapshots, this one forms the first (of three) parts updating the levels of driving automation reached by automakers.  Our second part turns the spotlight on supplier ADAS innovations while the third sets out a Q&A with powertrain engineering consultancy, Drive System Design. The lack of a driver in an AV re-writes the rules on many aspects of vehicle design, including the powertrain and driveline. This Q&A considers what the future might bring.

No driver required

The Society of Automotive Engineers' (SAE) defines six levels of driving automation, spanning from 'no automation' (you do all the work, level zero) to 'full automation' (sit back and be driven, level 5). These levels as defined by the SAE are also referred to as key stages towards automated driving, namely feet-off (L1), hands-off (L2), eyes off (L3), and brain off (L4). A key distinction is between level 2 and 3. An L2 car has an automated system that can conduct some parts of the driving task, while you continue to monitor the driving environment and perform the rest of the driving task. An automated system of an L3 car, however, can both conduct some parts of the driving task and monitor the driving environment in some situations, though you must be ready to take back control when the automated system requests.

BMW to put L4/5 on the road by 2021

BMW and Intel are partnering to bring solutions for highly automated driving (L3) and fully automated driving (L4/5) into production by 2021. Earlier this year, BMW opened an autonomous driving campus in Unterschleissheim, Germany, where it employs IT specialists and software developers in the areas of AI, machine learning and data analysis.

FCA to supply thousands of self-driving minivans to Waymo

FCA revealed earlier this year that it will supply thousands of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo for the launch of its driverless taxi service. FCA previously delivered 100 Pacifica Hybrid minivans, adapted for self-driving, to Waymo during the second half of 2016 and an additional 500 in 2017.

Ford investing in robotics research

Ford is aiming to have an L4 car in commercial operation by 2021 and wants to have 'high volume' (over 100,000 units a year) to maximise the business opportunity via ride-hailing or ride-sharing. Ford sees a major opportunity to exploit 'transportation as a service' in urban areas during the 2020s and by 2030 it forecasts that AVs will account for 20 percent of all vehicle sales.

Until then, Ford claims its Co-Pilot360 is  the "most advanced suite of standard driver assist technology among full-line brands."  Co-Pilot360 includes standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot information system, lane keeping system, rear backup camera and auto high beam lighting. It will be launched this autumn for new passenger cars, SUVs and trucks up to the top-selling F-150 in North America, starting with the redesigned 2019 Edge SUV.

Last month, the University of Michigan began construction of the US$75m Ford Robotics Building on its Ann Arbor campus. Due to open in 2020, the complex will house classrooms, offices, an open collaboration area and lab space for a variety of robotic technology. Ford will lease the fourth floor for robotics research and engineering in collaboration with the university and other industry players. The arrangement is expected to help expand the automaker's research into robotics, including AVs.

GM's Cruise AV 

After more than a year of building test vehicles for the development of its self-driving technology, GM recently revealed plans to build production versions of its Cruise AV at its Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan. Roof modules for GM's self-driving vehicles will be assembled at its Brownstown plant. The Cruise AV, which the company plans to commercialise in 2019, is the first production-ready vehicle built from the ground up to operate safely on its own with no driver, steering wheel, pedals or manual controls.

Hyundai partners with Aurora

Hyundai and Aurora have formed a partnership to bring self-driving Hyundai vehicles to market by 2021. The partnership will incorporate Aurora's self-driving technology into Hyundai vehicles starting with models custom-developed and launched in test programmes and pilot cities.

Meanwhile, Hyundai Mobis (the automaker's parts arm) recently started testing its autonomous car, dubbed M.Billy, in Germany, South Korea and the US. The company now has three test cars, but will increase the number to over ten by the end of this year. M.Billy is equipped with 23 sensors developed by the supplier, namely the front-view camera (1), radar (5), LiDAR (1), ultrasonic sensors (12), and surround view monitoring (4).

JLR tests 'self-driving valet'

Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has developed a 'self-driving valet' enabling cars to find spaces by themselves and park without any driver input. The company demonstrated the technology on open public roads in Milton Keynes as part of Jaguar Land Rover's work with UK Autodrive, a consortium testing self-driving vehicles and connected car technologies.

Last March, JLR and ride-hail firm Waymo divulged a long-term strategic partnership that will deliver up to 20,000 Jaguar vehicles for Waymo's driverless fleet. The partners say they will develop the 'world's first premium self-driving electric vehicle for Waymo's driverless transportation service'.

Kia to sell L4 in 2021

Kia plans to commercialise L4 autonomous driving with 'smart city' testing due to start in 2021.

Mercedes-Benz aims for early 2020s

Mercedes-Benz also has the early 2020s in its sights to release L4/5 technology on the market.

Nissan rolls out ProPILOT Assist

Nissan revealed this week that its ProPILOT Assist semi-autonomous driving system has been a hit with customers, with more than 120,000 vehicles featuring the technology sold globally, and now set to expand to additional models. ProPILOT Assist is a hands-on driver-assist system that helps drivers stay centred in a lane, navigate stop-and-go traffic and maintain a set vehicle speed and distance to the vehicle ahead.

Toyota evaluates Highway Teammate

By 2020, Toyota's aim is to have vehicles using its Highway Teammate L3 technology on the road. Highway Teammate is currently under evaluation in a number of Lexus GS prototypes and it can automatically operate the steering wheel, accelerator and brakes to achieve the appropriate speed and driving lines.

Volkswagen testing autonomous parking

VW recently started testing autonomous parking at a multi-storey car park near Terminal 2 of Hamburg Airport as part of the mobility partnership with the city that aims to develop it as a model for urban mobility. The first customers should to be able to test the service by 2020.

Audi claims that its next A8 sedan will be the first production vehicle to be equipped with L3 technology aka AI traffic jam pilot system. The technology handles the task of driving in a traffic jam or slow-moving highway traffic up to 60km/h (37.3mph). With traffic jam pilot engaged, drivers no longer need to continuously keep their eyes on the road but must take over when the system prompts them. Yet the ADAS technology fitted to the A8 has some limitations. For example, it is only intended to be activated in relative slow-moving traffic and only on divided roads where a physical barrier separates vehicles driving in the opposite direction, i.e. a motorway/freeway. However, Audi has higher speed ambitions for its 2019 A8.

Volvo partners with Autoliv

Volvo has formed a venture with Autoliv and calls it Zenuity. Last January at CES we met with Dennis Nobelius, Zenuity's president to learn more about the company's progress.

Is it street legal?

While manufacturers say their technology will allow cars to drive themselves, legislation in some parts of the world is holding them back.  But that's another story.