Ever looking towards the future, people are constantly carrying a romanticized view of the kinds of technologies that will be available in the future – hoverboards, holograms, robotics, the list goes on and on. And while some of these advancements we dream of are a long time coming or are still just pipedreams (looking at you, Food Hydrator from Back to the Future), the self-driving car is one high-tech advancement that may not be too far off! Autonomous vehicle technology has continued to receive attention due to constant new innovation in smart manufacturing such as industrial grade computers, AI, machine learning, and more bringing us closer and closer to their development.. And recently, we took one step closer. 

On November 11, 2020, Honda Motor Co announced that they were given authorization to begin selling Level 3 Autonomous Vehicles. And just like that, self-driving cars and autonomous vehicle technology are no longer things to just daydream about. We’re seeing that there’s some bite to the bark of manufacturers who have been promising these fantasy vehicles for years and years. 

So, what does that mean for the average automotive manufacturer? If the auto industry is beginning to move towards autonomous vehicle technology and self-driving cars, what kinds of policies, technologies, and considerations are they going to need to entertain so that they aren’t left behind in the dust when society begins looking a little more like an episode of The Jetsons?  

Understand the Chronology of Autonomous Vehicle Rollout

It’s important to understand at the get-go that the rolling out of self-driving cars will not be instant – we aren’t simply going to jump from our hand-me-down Toyota Camrys to cars that don’t require a steering wheel. There are several things that need to be meticulously tested and fine-tuned when it comes to autonomous vehicle safety which is why self-driving vehicle manufacturing has been, and is continuing to be, conducted in waves or “levels”.

There are several stages and increasing levels of complexity to the types of autonomous vehicle technology we can currently manufacture. In fact, there are 6 different levels to discuss.

Manufacturers looking to jump onto the self-driving vehicle trend will want to understand all of these levels and how their business can meet consumer needs as these different stages of autonomous vehicles hit both the market and the road. 

What Are the Levels of Autonomous Vehicle Technology?

While this may not be too surprising to manufacturers, many laymen may be surprised to hear that autonomous vehicle technology already exists on the road. While the end goal of a vehicle that requires no human input is a bit down the road, we’ve already made plenty of progress towards smarter vehicles and Honda’s recent announcement is only proof that that progress is continuing.

The 6 levels of autonomous vehicle technology are: 

Level 0: No automation. Nice and simple (In more ways than one.) 

Level 1: Vehicles that perform minor steering and acceleration with the bulk of all other operations being under human control. 

Level 2: Vehicles that automatically respond to dangerous situations such as scenarios where a vehicle may need to come to a sudden stop to avoid an accident. These vehicles still require the driver to be alert and responsive to other stimuli. 

Level 3: Vehicles that can drive themselves in certain scenarios without any human input. This can usually only be performed in busier urban settings. Essentially, these vehicles remove the need for driver input during more “passive” moments of driving such as when one would be stuck behind traffic. Level 3 vehicles still require a driver to be able to take over operations if the believes transference of control is necessary. 

Level 4: Vehicles capable of “fully autonomous driving.”  A human driver is still in the car and can request control at any time but the vehicle is capable of handling a majority of driving situations independently. 

Level 5: The holy grail of autonomous vehicle technology. Level 5 autonomous vehicles may not even require steering wheels and are capable of performing all driving functions in all manner of scenarios without human input. 

We already see Level 1 and 2 vehicles on the road on a regular basis. Honda is leading the charge with level 3 and it’s likely we’ll see levels 4 and 5 before too long. The biggest takeaway for manufacturers looking to catch up is that we aren’t going to simply see a leap to level 5 vehicles. There will be a slow transition from level 3 to 4 and then 5 and manufacturers will need fluency in a few key pieces of industrial technology to keep pace during all of these stages while also doing all they can to ensure autonomous vehicle safety.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Autonomous vehicle sensors are going to be essential, if they aren’t already, as we delve into deeper levels of automated driving. These are the devices that are going to pick up on voices, speech, images, and data, all of which are compiled and used by the autonomous vehicle to make decisions such as when to come to a stop, when to accelerate, and so on. Of course, the autonomous vehicle sensors only gather this data. AI and Machine Learning (ML) are the algorithms that will process and translate this data into actions performed by the vehicle. 

Not only will the cars themselves require AI and ML for applications of autonomous vehicle sensors, your facility is going to need them to build and test these machines as well. We’ve discussed before how AI and ML can be used to fuel digital twin programs that enhance the testing process. Autonomous vehicle safety can be ensured in a financially responsible way by having digital simulations run based on trained ML algorithms. The vehicles are naturally going to require several iterations and stages of testing and learning how to use AI and ML now can help you save on those tests in the future.

Data Protection Systems

If it wasn’t already apparent, autonomous vehicle technology is vastly complex and calls upon a large amount of data in order to perform automated functions. Not only are they responding to and communicating with drivers, future iterations will need to communicate with each other and even roadside infrastructures. Opening the door to all this data also compromises autonomous vehicle safety by opening the door to more remote attacks on that data.

It’s been proven before that poorly protected vehicles that call upon this data can be accessed and controlled by unauthorized users. And while this was back in 2015, that doesn’t excuse manufacturers to skimp on proper cybersecurity efforts when building their new automated vehicles. Fortunately, there are house passed bills that require those selling automated vehicles to provide plans for cybersecurity fortification before they can be sold domestically. For the sake of you, your business, and your consumers, familiarizing yourself for what these plans call for and what kind of cybersecurity is necessary is well advised. 

Regardless of what’s required inside the vehicles themselves, your plant will need fortifications against cybersecurity threats as well. You’ll be using a fair share of data-based programs yourself and don’t want that being accessed by criminals with nefarious intentions. Consider industrial grade rugged PCs that are equipped with identity-authenticating hardware such as RFID and CAC scanners. In conjunction with blockchain ledgers, employees across all levels of your supply chain can authenticate anyone requesting access to data and ensure it is properly protected.  

Workforce Training Programs

You find yourself in a scenario where you know the status quo is about to shift. Autonomous vehicle technology is coming and you have an entire employee-base that has no idea what to expect as far as how those devices are built, maintained, repaired, or managed. Even if you just build parts and components for vehicles and not the cars themselves, new parts are sure to be required and may need you to call on different means of manufacturing (such as 3D) that you aren’t familiar with. Many manufacturers’ may not even be fully equipped to handle the AI, ML and cybersecurity programs we mentioned earlier. 

Reskilling the workforce has entered the limelight as manufacturers realize they need employees trained in brand new technologies to keep up with the fourth industrial revolution. Thankfully many have also seen success in deploying industrial grade tablets loaded with training modules to employees on the factory floor. Using these portable workstations and being able to undergo training wherever the devices they are tasked with learning are deployed, workers are able to more easily retain information and prepare themselves for smart manufacturing applications like the ones that will invariably be essential to creating autonomous vehicles. 

Autonomous Vehicle Technology is Coming. Will You Be Ready?

As exciting as autonomous vehicle technology is and how daunting preparing for it may sound, the truth of the matter is that it’s no different than past “revolutionary” changes to the automotive manufacturing process. AI, machine learning, predictive maintenance, digital simulation, all of these were new technological applications your facility needed to prepare and adapt for. So long as you keep a forward-minded approach, an ear to the pulse of your industry, and a willingness to experiment with new modes of operation, even autonomous vehicle technology can be seamlessly incorporated into how you do business. For more information on the types of hardware you’ll need to prepare, contact an expert from Cybernet’s team today.