BMW and Intel have partnered and are busily working on development of a fully-capable self-driving system which will be deployed in 2021 and will be so robust as to allow the driver to sleep behind the wheel.  Yep, sleep as the driver!

Yes, you’ll still need a driver’s license, and it will still have all the conventions of a typical car like a steering wheel, pedals, etc., but, in certain situations, you’ll have Level 3 and Level 4 self-driving capability.  How does the leveling system work?  Well, here’s a short guide:

Level 0 – Is the one with which we are almost all familiar – no self-driving features, unless you count dad or mom driving you over to the sleepover as a preteen.  Even cars equipped with forward collision warning and blind-spot detectors are still consider Level 0, since they do not actively control the vehicle.

Level 1 – These cars have some driver’s assistance – one or more systems controlling steering and speed, but not both at the same time.  Adaptive Cruise Control is Level 1.  So is emergency braking.

Level 2 – Now it is starting to get a little sci-fi.  Level 2 cars control steering and speed at the same time, with no required driver interaction for short periods of time – usually under a minute.  Many BMW models offer Level 2 features, but generally cannot control cars in all situations.

Level 3 – Curiously, this level might be skipped by most manufacturers for concerns of safety.  Level 3 controls the car in ALL situations, but require a return of human control when the system can’t safely handle the circumstances.  The driver is supposed to take over, but the concern is thrusting a driver suddenly into a situation they might not be immediately prepared to handle.

Leve 4 – Near autonomous driving.  BMW promises one by 2021.  No driver interaction is required.  The car simply stops if the system fails.  These cars are likely to lack driver-operated controls, putting them well into a foreign world of automotive technology for us.  Surprisingly, this foreign world is only a few years away.

Level 5 – The crowning achievement of robot cars –full driving autonomy.  Though it seems only a small progression from Level 4, it is actually a significant leap.  The driver is fully out of the equation – these cars are not meant to be driven by people and will likely have no controls to allow it. Reading the worst roads in the worst weather are a significant concern for even the most sophisticated sensors and intelligence systems.