Automated Vehicle Terminology

Artificial Intelligence (AI): A broad term for computer systems that can gather and process information and use that information to perform better. AI systems are important for advanced vehicle technologies because they can help automated vehicles operate more safely and effectively. Sometimes referred to as “machine learning.”

Adaptive Cruise Control: Adaptive cruise control uses sensors and automation to adjust your speed to maintain a set margin from the vehicles ahead of you, unlike traditional cruise control, which maintains a set speed until the driver changes it.

Automated Vehicle: A very broad terms that can be used to describe any vehicle with some level of automation.

Automatic Emergency Braking: Systems that use sensors such as cameras and radar combined with computers and controls to sense when a vehicle is headed for a collision and hit the brakes automatically – even if the driver doesn’t take action. These systems can avoid or reduce the impact of crashes when drivers are distracted, drowsy or otherwise fail to take action to avoid a crash.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS): A term describing a whole range of systems that use advanced technologies to help human drivers operate vehicles more safely. Examples include automatic emergency braking (which slows or stops a care automatically to avoid a collision) and lane-keeping assist (which helps prevent drivers from drifting out of their lane).

Blind Spot Monitoring: Systems that use sensors such as radar to sense when a vehicle or other object is in a driver’s “blind spot” – an area where the object is hard to see in rear-view mirrors. These systems usually use warning lights or beeps to warn the driver that an object is in the blind spot.

Connected Vehicle: A vehicle equipped with wireless communications technology that enables communication with other vehicles, connected infrastructure, the internet or other sources of data.

Driverless Vehicle: A broad term, but generally applied to fully automated vehicles (Level 5 on the SAE International scale) that can operate without a driver in any conditions.

Forward Collision Prevention: Systems, including automated systems, that try to help drivers avoid crashes to the front of the vehicle. These systems can be mechanical (such as antilock brakes, which prevent vehicles from skidding out of control), or simply providing warnings (such as a warning sound when a crash is imminent) or automated (such as automatic emergency braking, which will engage the brakes when the vehicle senses a crash is imminent).

Fully Automated Vehicle: Generally, most experts consider a vehicle that has reached Level 5 on SAE International’s levels of automation as fully automated. Level 5 vehicles are capable of full self-driving in any conditions, with no expectation that the driver needs to monitor or intervene. Some vehicles are fully automated in certain conditions — meaning that the driver is able to leave the driving to the vehicle, say, during daylight hours or in a certain geographic area, but may be expected to monitor or take over outside those conditions.

Lane Centering: Systems that use cameras and automated controls to help a driver stay in the center of a travel lane.

Lane-Keeping Assist: Systems that use cameras and automated control to warn drivers when they are departing from a travel lane, which can help avoid the crashes that occur when drowsy, distracted or otherwise impaired drivers swerve off the road.

Levels of Automation: A system developed by SAE International and widely adopted by industry and safety advocates to describe the various levels of technology in vehicles, from no automation at all to full self-driving. These are important for engineers, but they can also help drivers understand what their role is in operating a vehicle, so they can safely operate the vehicle. SAE has a handy chart for consumers as well as a highly technical paper explaining the levels, but briefly they are:

  • Level 0: No automation; the driver must fully control all driving tasks
  • Level 1: Driver assistance — the driver is in full control of the vehicle, but design includes some automated driver-assist systems (such as automatic emergency braking).
  • Level 2: Partial automation — vehicle includes systems that can simultaneously control both speed and direction of the vehicle in specific conditions, but with the driver monitoring the system’s performance at all times (such as automated parking systems). Level 2 is the highest level of automation available in vehicles consumers can buy today.
  • Level 3: Conditional automation – vehicle includes systems that can perform all driving tasks under a limited set of conditions, with a driver ready to take over when alerted by the system if required.
  • Level 4: High driving automation – the vehicle is capable of performing all driving tasks within specific conditions (such as only in daytime, or within a specific neighborhood), with no expectation that a driver will be asked to intervene when the vehicle is operating in those conditions.
  • Level 5: Full automation – vehicle is capable of handling all driving tasks in any conditions.

LIDAR: Acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. Systems that use laser light to sense the environment around them; advanced vehicles use LIDAR along with radar (which uses radio waves to do the same thing) and cameras to detect other vehicles, pedestrians and obstacles on the road. (The prominent, spinning domes or cylinders you may have seen on test vehicle? That’s LIDAR equipment.)

Pedestrian Detection: Advanced systems that use sensors such as cameras or radar to detect pedestrians or cyclists near a vehicle and warn the driver. Some systems will also engage the brakes if the vehicle senses a collision with a pedestrian is imminent.

Platooning: Using advanced technology to allow lines of vehicles (“platoons”) to move together along the roadway. When vehicles are connected by radio, the front vehicle in the platoon can share control those that follow. Experts believe platooning can reduce traffic congestion and fuel consumption. (For more, see this article from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center.)

Radar: Acronym for Radio Detection and Ranging. Systems that transmit radio waves to sense the environment around them. Originally developed to locate airplanes in flight, advanced vehicles use radar to detect other vehicles, pedestrians or

Self-Driving Vehicle: A broad term, but one that can be applied to vehicles that can operate at least in some conditions without any monitoring or input from the driver (Level 4 on the SAE International scale).

Vehicle-To-Vehicle (V2V): Radio connections between on-board systems on vehicles that allow them to “talk” to one another, sharing data about speed and direction. V2V systems can help prevent crashes (by alerting automated systems that two vehicles are on a collision course) and reduce traffic congestion (by helping traffic move more smoothly and efficiently, and helping vehicles avoid traffic jams on the road ahead).

Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X): A catch-all term for on-board systems that are able to share data with other cars (V2V) or specially equipped infrastructure (V2I). For example, a car could communicate with traffic lights, stopping or slowing as the light signals it’s about to change to red, or triggering a red light to turn green when no opposing traffic is around.