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The 6 Stages of Automation

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Autonomous Vehicles are making their way to city streets in several cities across the United States. With six identified stages of autonomy, there is room for this technology to serve as a complement to public transit. But there are differences between an automated vehicle and a fully driverless vehicle. Thilo Koslowski, former analyst for Gartner, thinks that ultimately, there are three stages that will be relevant: "automated, autonomous, and driverless."

The NHTSA has identified six levels of autonomy (identified by a graphic and detailed descriptions below):

Depiction of the SAE levels of automation ranging from 0 to 5. Read more in the next section about these levels.





Level 0


The human driver does all the driving.

Level 1


An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) on the vehicle can sometimes assist the human driver with either steering or braking/accelerating, but not both simultaneously.

Level 2


An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) on the vehicle can itself actually control both steering and braking/accelerating simultaneously under some circumstances.  The human driver must continue to pay full attention (“monitor the driving environment”) at all times and perform the rest of the driving task.

Level 3


An Automated Driving System (ADS) on the vehicle can itself perform all aspects of the driving task under some circumstances.  In those circumstances, the human driver must be ready to take back control at any time when the ADS requests the human driver to do so.  In all other circumstances, the human driver performs the driving task.

Level 4


An Automated Driving System (ADS) on the vehicle can itself perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment – essentially, do all the driving – in certain circumstances.  The human need not pay attention in those circumstances.

Level 5


An Automated Driving System (ADS) on the vehicle can do all the driving in all circumstances.  The human occupants are just passengers and need never be involved in driving.


The opportunities for public transit can be summed up by a Metro Magazine article: “A key component to every public transit agency’s vision for the future must be to form partnerships with private sector transportation companies, where appropriate.  In doing so, public transit agencies will have the opportunity to leverage the advances of the private sector, both in technology and operating models, while still preserving the true mission of public transit.”

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