The term ‘autopilot’ has been used for decades within the aircraft industry, enabling pilots to reduce their cognitive load by allowing an aircraft to practically fly itself during “cruising” portions of the trip. The same is now happening as cars with autopilot are rapidly turning into buy autonomous cars or self-driving vehicles, allowing drivers to let the cars drive themselves on certain portions of the trip, like freeways.
Tesla most famously branded its self-driving features as “Autopilot”, but many other automakers are now including similar self-driving and buy autonomous cars features as part of their driving assistance option packages.
This article provides a breakdown of buy autonomous cars with autopilot and who offers what, but first, we’ll go through a bit of background and explanation of the terms.
Here we’ll discuss the safety features to buy autonomous cars in 2022.
Autonomous Cars – Self-Driving Car Levels: A Brief Overview
First, let’s define exactly what constitutes ‘autopilot’-like features. Buy Autonomous cars and self-driving vehicles can take many different forms, from basic driver assistance features, like cruise control, to semi-autonomous, all the way to full self-driving capabilities. The industry even has a set of levels to help classify this automation.
|Level 0||No automation|
|Level 1||Semi-automated systems, like cruise control.|
|Level 2||Semi-automated systems, like steering, speed, and braking.|
|Level 3||Primary driving functions are automated under some conditions.|
|Level 4||Primary driving functions are automated under most conditions.|
|Level 5||Primary driving functions are automated under all conditions.|
Learn more about this by reading our article on SAE self-driving levels for cars and buy autonomous cars.
Autopilot is a generic term used in multiple industries, particularly aircraft, and generally means that something can guide itself without human intervention. In relation to buy autonomous cars in 2022, most mainstream carmakers are focused on, Level 2 autonomy. This level allows the vehicle to take over most steering, acceleration, and braking functions, but still requires that the driver remain fully attentive to the driving situation and be able to intervene at any moment. It is not driverless, fully autonomous driving, like robotaxis from Waymo or Cruise (that are now testing in California).
That means, today, autopilot really means ‘assisted driving’ and not ‘self-driving’ since the driver still has to be alert and attentive at all times. It won’t be until Level 4 or Level 5 fully to buy autonomous cars hit the roads that the true promise of full self-driving will be a reality. Currently, that’s not expected to happen until later in 2022 (although the team at Tesla is pushing hard to do so as soon as possible, as announced at Tesla Autonomy Day since all buy autonomous cars sold with Hardware 3 are much more powerful).
Core AutoPilot Features
At a minimum, we define autopilot (Level 2) to include the following features for use on freeways and highways with “controlled access” (i.e., they have on-ramps and off-ramps and no-cross traffic intersections):
- Stop-and-Go Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
- Like traditional cruise control from the past, you set your speed and the car maintains that speed. However, with Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), buy autonomous cars use radar and/or cameras to maintain the following distance from the car in front of you, automatically slowing down or speeding up, as needed.
- In addition, newer ACC systems are now able to slow down all the way to a stop and then automatically resume as traffic gets moving again. This is crucial for drivers who commute in heavy traffic urban environments.
- Automated, Lane-Centering (ALC)
- There are many systems that have what’s called “Lane Keeping Assist” (LKA), but these systems usually just help nudge and buy autonomous cars back towards the center of the lane if a driver drifts. For ‘autopilot’ the vehicle should be able to keep itself centered in a lane and follow a freeway or highway lane, as long as the turns and curves are generally fairly mild (i.e. no sharp curves).
Other autopilot features that are useful, but not critical for the ‘autopilot’ designation, are:
- Automated Lane Changes
- Automated Lane Changing allows a vehicle to automatically change lanes (on freeways) after the driver has initiated or approved a lane change maneuver.
- It will only change lanes once it’s safe to do so (using built-in sensors to detect nearby autonomous cars).
- Autopilot on All Roads
- Currently, most autopilot systems are designed to primarily handle freeways and highways that are “controlled access roads”, meaning that they have on-ramps and off-ramps, so there’s no possibility of cross-traffic, at an intersection, for example. Some systems allow Level 2 autopilot features to work on any road where the markings are clear, however, the driver must be fully engaged to watch for cross-traffic, stop signs, and traffic lights.
- Follow Navigation Route (freeways only)
- This system requires allows the vehicle to automatically follow a navigation route on freeways only (“on-ramp to off-ramp”), change lanes (automatically, without needing to activate the turn signal) as needed, and even handle freeway interchanges. Once the vehicle is off the freeway, the driver takes over again.
Presently only Tesla is able to achieve the additional three mentioned above with their Full Self-Driving and Enhanced Autopilot options on ‘Hardware 2’ vehicles.
Isn’t This Just Automated Cruise Control with Lane Centering?
If you step back and look at the core of what’s being provided, we’re really talking about automated cruise control with the ability to steer itself (keep the vehicle centered in the lane). However, the second part (steering) is critical and one of the most difficult tasks, which we’ll explain below.
Lane Keeping Assist vs Automated Lane Centering (steering)
One of the most confusing aspects of choosing a good autopilot system is understanding the difference between what’s often called “Lane Keeping Assist” (LKA) and automated steering where the system is actually keeping the car centered at all times with no driver input (other than hands on the wheel if the system requires it).
Almost all major car companies have some sort of LKA functionality, however, that usually means helping to move the vehicle back to the center of the lane if it drifts. Some systems are robust enough that you could keep your hands off the wheel for a short period of time so it feels like automated steering to a certain degree.
In reality, the future systems will be ones that can accurately identify the road and combine that with map data to ensure to buy autonomous car can steer itself on the road as good or better than a human driver. So far, only Tesla and GM’s Super Cruise are able to do that, but only in certain conditions (e.g. the road only has mild curves).
The bottom line is if you see “Lane Keeping Assist”, be sure to dig into that feature and test drive it on the freeway to understand whether it automatically keeps the system centered in the lane automatically, and how well it does it. The last thing you want is a false sense of security and have the car drift into another lane or off the road.
What About Basic Safety Features?
Most peoples buy autonomous cars that have autopilot-like features, and also have fairly common automated safety systems included, called Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) within the industry. These core safety features include:
- Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) to avoid a front-end collision if a large object is detected ahead, in addition to collision warnings
- Blind Spot Monitoring to alert a driver if another car is in the blind spot
- Lane Departure Warning to alert the driver if they are drifting out of the lane
All these features are “must-haves” today and you should double-check to ensure they are included with your vehicle and package options.
AutoPilot Technology Suppliers
- Historically, most auto manufacturers have relied on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), like Mobileye, Delphi and Bosch, etc. to provide autopilot parts and technologies to buy autonomous cars, including things like navigation systems. This allows the auto manufacturers to concentrate on developing and marketing the core autonomous cars themselves while other companies focus on specialized parts and technology.
- Mobileye, which was purchased by Intel, is arguably the leading OEM in providing autopilot technology, via their EyeQ line of visual perception chips, to auto manufacturers. They famously provided Autopilot technology for the first-generation Tesla Model S vehicles that came with Enhanced Autopilot. Later, Tesla began to develop its own technology as Elon Musk wanted to push autonomous driving technology faster. Mobileye previously focused on perception technology (i.e. identifying objects) with its EyeQ chips and it was up to the manufacturers to integrate driving control hardware and software but now Mobileye is also beginning to offer “full-stack” autopilot solutions. Today Mobileye is providing autopilot-like technology to manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, and Nissan via their EyeQ 4 and EyeQ 5 chipsets.
- NVIDIA is close behind Mobileye in developing autopilot features. In fact, their latest ADAS system is termed “Autopilot”. NVIDIA comes from a gaming / AI chipset development background and rightfully believes that a more powerful AI-like system will be required in autonomous cars to achieve reliable full-self driving. They are supplying solutions to Volvo and Mercedes for their future vehicles. Other startups and companies, like Cruise (GM), Aurora, Argo, and Zoox (now Amazon) are also gaining momentum, but are primarily focused on Robo-taxis and are in testing phases rather than large-scale rollouts. That said, many autonomous car manufacturers are developing their own technology as they feel it’s critical as a future differentiator. Tesla is most famous in this regard, having created a sophisticated Autopilot system using a neural network based on cameras.
- Toyota, Honda, and Subaru have also created their own systems. Why does it matter? Generally speaking, dedicated OEMs like Mobileye can innovate faster than auto manufacturers. However, some auto manufacturers like Tesla are innovating so quickly that they push over-the-air software updates to their autonomous cars, just like your smartphone. Most traditional auto manufacturers don’t update software, requiring you to purchase a new model year instead. Regardless, all manufacturers are beholden to regulatory approval before bringing to buy autonomous car driving technology to the market.
- DIY Autopilot: For those automotive enthusiasts and tech-savvy tinkerers who want cutting-edge autopilot features, there is another solution from comma.ai using the open-source open pilot software. This taps into newer-model vehicles with autopilot, like the ones below, but supercharges them with advanced machine learning and neural network capabilities.
Evaluating AutoPilot Quality
Most auto manufacturers claim to have some sort of self-driving capability, whether it’s basic Adaptive Cruise Control or Lane Keeping Assist, or a combination of both. However, simply having those features doesn’t mean they work well.
These are generally the most important criteria for autopilot functionality:
- Availability – Is the system available on all roads or only certain roads or freeways (that have been previously mapped, for example)? Does it work on city streets and respond to traffic controls?
- Lane Centering Accuracy – How well the vehicle tracks the lanes and stays centered without direct driver input is critical to a good autopilot system. Most systems today handle clearly marked freeways with mild turns, however, sharp turns and/or turns at higher speeds are usually not supported. This is NOT Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) that simply corrects the autonomous cars back into the lane if it drifts.
- Smooth Acceleration and Deceleration – Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) has been around for a while, but ensuring the vehicle is able to maintain a reasonable distance and smoothly accelerate and decelerate is not always that easy, especially down to a full stop.
- Attentiveness Monitoring – How does the system monitor attentiveness? Most check that your hands are on the wheel, but some also use cameras to check that your eyes are on the road.
- Emergency and Evasive Actions – When you’re traveling at freeway speeds, it’s critically important that the autopilot system can detect and ideally take evasive actions if the situation warrants it. This is probably the most difficult thing for an autopilot system to get right since there are so many different unexpected situations that can happen in the real world and is one of the reasons most systems require the driver to stay attentive at all times.
While we have not personally tested each system, the criteria above are what we watch out for in reviews and videos to understand how well each autopilot system performs.
Buy Autonomous Cars with AutoPilot Features
While there are many ‘autopilot’-like systems available from autonomous car manufacturers today, they are generally a combination of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA). As mentioned previously LKA by itself only nudges an autonomous car back to the center of the lane, but does not keep it centered.
The cars below are ones that are generally considered the top cars with autopilot and do a good job automatically keeping and buy autonomous cars centered in the lane.