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The future is now. The world is changing tremendously right before our eyes. Electric vehicles are rushing out of manufacturing facilities across the globe. Vehicle technology like voice-assisted texting and hands-free Bluetooth have made way to Alexa, Apple Car Play, and 15-inch flat screens acting as instrument panels.

It is uncertain what future vehicle technology will hold; just like every aspect of life, it’s impossible to predict the future. The only thing you can be sure of is uncertainty. It does seem, however, that autonomy is the future in the eyes of the auto industry.

As humans, we try to make our lives as easy as possible. If a challenging task stares us in the face, we invent something to make doing that task simple. That’s been our way of life since the creation of the wheel. Autonomy does follow that guideline. Accidents occur at record paces every year, and fatalities happen nearly every hour. If a vehicle driving itself can eliminate severe accidents, cause fewer deaths, and keep our lives safer and simpler, then what are we waiting for?

Autonomy is defined as the right or condition of self-government, meaning something can act on its own. That can seem like a scary thought to some, but it’s a genuine reality that cars will ultimately be able to drive themselves in the coming decade.

The world seems to be hanging in the balance on whether automation is a good thing or not. Movies like iRobot and Knight Rider have scared the masses into thinking full automation has the capability of destroying the world as we know it. While that probably won’t happen from a demon car that can think, cars are now being equipped with the capability of driving themselves.

There are six levels of automation; however, level 0 is your run of the mill car, so it doesn’t need to be discussed. There are five primary levels of automation within vehicles. The levels range from 1, which includes cruise control and anti-lock braking systems, to level 5, in which a car needs no driver whatsoever.

Level 1

Level 1 automation is simple technology in terms of this decade. Vehicles equipped with this level of automation will have basic cruise control, anti-lock braking systems, and warning lights if you change lanes. A driver still needs to drive and operate the vehicle at all times.

Level 2

Level 2 automation is available in some higher value vehicles in today’s market. A vehicle equipped with level 2 automation can accelerate, steer, and brake on its own. That might sound like a car driving itself, but it’s not advanced enough to go without a driver. You will still need to operate the vehicle the majority of the time.

Level 3

Once a vehicle is equipped with level 3 automation, the driver will operate less than the machine. At level 3, a driver can completely take their eyes off the road and let the car do the work in most situations. The vehicle cannot drive itself in high traffic areas, however. Level 3 automation would mainly be used as an advanced form of cruise control.

Level 4

Level 4 automation is when robots might begin an uprising. The vehicle you purchase could be a transformer, and it will be able to drive itself in almost all situations. It still does not include high traffic areas, though. There are too many scenarios occurring around a vehicle in congested traffic that makes creating automation for it extremely challenging. A driver will still need to pay some kind of attention to the road, just in case the automation goes array.

Level 5

Level 5 automation is a fully functioning vehicle. A driver can lay down and take a nap, read a book, anything that makes them happy. In every situation, a level 5 autonomous vehicle can operate itself.

The Future of Driving

The truth is, this technology is real. We joke about the idea of a robot takeover, but in reality, the technology is available right now and could be installed in vehicles within the next few years.

Many are questioning whether this a good idea for the future or if autonomous cars are just another outrageous futuristic prediction by a guy that thinks he knows more than the average person.

Is a bunch of people sitting in their flying cars that drive themselves, really going to be a good thing? And even if it turns out to be positive, who has the money to buy it? John Pearley Huffman, a writer for Car and Driver, says it best, “The strides made recently are astonishing, but there’s no guarantee that such tech will soon be available at a price that actual consumers can afford.”

The future is uncertain. And honestly, we all should hope it isn’t autonomy. What happens when people want to drive their cars? After all, driving is fun. Is a government mandate going to forbid it? I don’t think so.

American life has been shaped by our transportation. In the 30s, we developed vehicles with style and grace. In the 60s, hippies put on their bright shirts and bell-bottoms and hopped in the VW bus. In the 70s, we created American muscle cars that changed the shape of the entire automotive world. You’re telling me that self-driving vehicles are going to replace the love of driving a winding country road? I don’t buy that, and nobody else should either.