Tesla's Autopilot & All Autonomous Systems Should Be Judged by Functionality

Tesla's Autopilot & All Autonomous Systems Should Be Judged by Functionality

Photo: Tesla

Since all automated driving technologies are different, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined five levels of autonomous driving. However, at the moment, these levels do not properly reflect the real functionality of a vehicle. This means that, based on current SAE standards, Tesla’s Autopilot is judged incorrectly.

According to SAE standards, they define six levels of automation that automakers, suppliers, and policymakers must use to classify system complexity, from 0 to 5.

Level 0 _ No Automation
Level 1 _ Driver Assistance
Level 2 _ Partial Automation
Level 3 _ Conditional Automation
Level 4 _ High Automation
Level 5 _ Full Automation

Tasha Keeney from ARK Invest raised the question of how to correctly judge Autonomous Systems at these levels if the actual functionality does not correspond to them, and Tesmanian decided to take a closer look at this.

On March 4, 2021, Honda announced that they launched their next generation Honda SENSING Elite safety system with Level 3 automated driving features in Japan. What does this actually mean? According to the company, Traffic Jam Pilot technology allows an automated driving system to steer a vehicle instead of a driver in certain conditions, such as when the vehicle is in a busy traffic stream. The main point to note is that the so-called Level 3 autonomy in fact works only "under certain slow speed conditions," and only in Japan.

Meanwhile, Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD), which are currently classified as Level 2 autonomy, have a much wider range of capabilities, as evidenced by billions of miles of real data, which has been difficult to compete with for any other manufacturer.


  • Traffic-Aware Cruise Control: Matches the speed of your car to that of the surrounding traffic
  • Autosteer: Assists in steering within a clearly marked lane, and uses traffic-aware cruise control

Full Self-Driving Capability

  • Navigate on Autopilot (Beta): Actively guides your car from a highway’s on-ramp to off-ramp, including suggesting lane changes, navigating interchanges, automatically engaging the turn signal and taking the correct exit
  • Auto Lane Change: Assists in moving to an adjacent lane on the highway when Autosteer is engaged
  • Autopark: Helps automatically parallel or perpendicular park your car, with a single touch
  • Summon: Moves your car in and out of a tight space using the mobile app or key
  • Smart Summon: Your car will navigate more complex environments and parking spaces, maneuvering around objects as necessary to come find you in a parking lot.
  • Traffic and Stop Sign Control (Beta): Identifies stop signs and traffic lights and automatically slows your car to a stop on approach, with your active supervision
  • Upcoming: Autosteer on city streets

This set of functionality demonstrates how far Tesla is ahead of its competitors. The only difference here is that, according to the classification, if the driver has to observe the road while driving, then this level of autonomy can only be attributed to Level 2. At the same time, if the car does not require the attention of the driver, although only in very limited conditions, it receives Level 3 autonomy.

In fact, this is a kind of deception, which is at best misleading. If a driver can use an autonomous system without driver supervision only occasionally and only under certain and very limited conditions, it is wrong to classify it as Level 3 autonomy, because in fact, such functionality does not at all reflect the real state of affairs. Tesla's autonomous systems can drive most of the time with only minor driver intervention, and this is why the SAE classification cannot be used for an objective assessment of autonomous vehicle systems.

© 2021, Eva Fox. All rights reserved.


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Article edited by @SmokeyShorts, you can follow him on Twitter

About the Author

Eva Fox

Eva Fox

Eva Fox joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover breaking news as an automotive journalist. The main topics that she covers are clean energy and electric vehicles. As a journalist, Eva is specialized in Tesla and topics related to the work and development of the company.

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