Defining Vehicle Automation

Terminology is important in order for engineers, policymakers and consumers to have a common language for talking about technologies and a shared vocabulary with precise definitions.

For automakers, the very general term of “driving automation” covers a wide range of technologies and driving situations, but it is a useful overall term that works well in today’s world where technology is rapidly evolving.

Automated systems can include a range of driver assist technologies, including parking assist, adaptive cruise control, lane centering or traffic jam assist, with the driver monitoring the roadway at all times in order to be prepared to intervene right away to maintain safety. Vehicles with these technologies are on sale now.

But when many people talk about automated vehicles, they may be thinking of the higher levels of automation that characterize “highly automated vehicles” (HAVs) that can take full control of driving — in some or all circumstances.

Misnomers and Vague Terminology

Automotive experts avoid several terms used interchangeably today because they are confusing or misleading. For instance, “semi-autonomous” could refer to vehicles with adaptive cruise control or vehicles with automated driving systems that can drive the car in certain circumstances.

An “autonomous” car, “driverless” car, “self-driving” car or “robotic” car are all labels that mean different things to different people. With no shared agreement on what these labels mean, they have limited use in describing specific technology.