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Jargon buster: autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles: everyone’s talking about them. They have the potential to impact our lives in a massive way, from something as simple as allowing you to work whilst travelling on the motorway, to how it could impact on the shape of our cities, with the potential to free up space to build 180,000 homes across London, as reported by consultancy firm Arcadis.

With car manufacturers such as Mercedes, Jaguar Land Rover, Audi, Toyota and Ford focusing their efforts on self-driving technology, this is a tech trend you can’t ignore.

If you don’t know your level 4 from level 5 AV, read on.


Autonomous vehicle. Also known as a self-driving car.


Connected automated vehicle. The term is interchangeable with AV.


The next level of mobile Internet. One of the main uses expected for this network is communication with and between AVs.

Level 0

A car with no automation or driver assistance.

Level 1

Most modern cars are at least a Level 1 on the automation scale, which means they have at least one driver assistance technology, such as speed limitation, lane keeping abilities or cruise control.

Level 2

This is a car with partial automation, such as technology which controls breaking, steering or any Level 1 technology. However, to qualify as Level 2 automation, these features must be able to work together.

Level 3

This level of automation can take full control of driving. When people imagine driverless cars, this is likely what springs to mind: someone sat behind a steering wheel, without the need to use it as the car drives along the road. But the key with Level 3 cars is that the driver must still be present: the car may be able to drive, but it is not quite intuitive enough to ensure safe driving in any situation.

Level 4

This car can drive without a driver at all, though often it will have manual driving controls should driver intervention be required. However, level 4 cars do have limitations. It may be that they are geofenced to only drive within a certain area, or limited in the types of roads they are programmed to navigate.

Level 5

A truly autonomous vehicle. These cars can perform as well as humans (or arguably better) in every driving scenario. Level 5 is still a dream at the moment, but as Level 4 technology develops it is becoming closer to a reality. These cars could be on our roads from as early as 2025.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)

Integrated technology designed to improve vehicle safety. Examples include blind spot monitoring, collision warning, parking sensors, and other technologies associated with Level 1 and 2 automated vehicles.


These are Light Detecting and Ranging devices, which sit atop autonomous vehicles. Lidars fire laser beams, then measure how long it takes for the beams to return. This provides information to form a 3D map of the surroundings.


Radio waves are bounced to determine the proximity of cars or other objects. This is the technology behind emergency breaking and parking assistance, and it is also being used in more elaborate ways in level 4 and 5 AVs.

Over-the-air (OTA) updates

Software updates via the cloud. This will be important for AVs, as they update maps and install other software improvements.

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V)

The method by which AVs ‘talk’ to each other. V2V technology broadcasts information about a vehicle’s speed, road position, and braking status among other spacial data. Some cars already have this technology.

Vehicle-to-everything (V2X)

Communication between vehicles and smart objects, such as street signs which can provide updates on road conditions.

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