Full autonomous driving isn't quite a reality yet, but if you think there's absolutely zero autonomous driving tech out there, you're seriously mistaken. We hear the news about Tesla's Autopilot feature, driving assist technology that's pervading just about every brand and what manufacturers and tech companies are trying to do, even as you read this article. Here's a breakdown of the five (six, counting Level 0) levels of autonomous driving technology. It'll be more and more relevant as the months and years pass until it's pretty much everywhere.



cruise control

This is about as basic as it gets these days, but there's still plenty of technology that gets infused into cars. Cruise control has been around for a while now, and this is a prime example where the technology of the car controls the speed but not much else. The limited technology is a single-task pony and won't turn, brake or keep you in your lane. 


lexus lanekeep

The next step up from basic cruise control is the combination of cruise control and lane keep assist that utilizes the technology in combination to handle very short periods of self-driving. The tech will brake for you, accelerate and keep you in your lane, but it by no means lets you kick back and not pay attention. The driver still must maintain regular control of the steering wheel, and the car will instruct the driver to do so visually and audibly, possibly even vibrating the seat or steering wheel. Think of Tesla's Autopilot. 


audi ad3

There is currently no Level 3 car on the market, and this is where the serious demarcation in the sand exists. The system in a Level 3 vehicle will actually make decisions at key points. Rather than just keeping you in your lane, it will decide to change lanes, accelerate and pass when the coast is clear, etc. But it can't function without properly painted lines or when the car's tech has a glitch, so the driver still has to pay attention.



Looks ma, no hands. Yep, this is the real deal, and no person is required to take action in the vehicle. But there's a caveat. The Level 4 car operates in a protected environment with minimal to no unpredictability, meaning it will run in a community and not go beyond those boundaries. The notion of full autonomy is almost there, but you can't take it anywhere you want. 



What everyone has their sights set on, and it's what the original Google car had its sights set on, and it's what the Mercedes-Benz F 015 showed us in concept form. No controls for the driver, meaning no pedals, no steering wheel, nothing but utter relaxation and/or productivity for the occupants. The Level 5 car will do more than just drive. It will be truly connected. It will check your phone for your desired destination, read your biometrics, perform system updates, you name it. It's the future, and it might even be less than a decade away.