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June 2023

Autonomous driving, cars are increasingly intelligent but drivers must be aware of the risks

Simonluca Pini - Contributing Editor Sole 24 Ore

Dirty sensors, malfunctions and impaired concentration can endanger the driver and passengers
We read increasingly about self-driving cars, a definition used -  most of the times – incorrectly, but capable to create, in the eyes of the motorist, futuristic scenarios where one can watch a film or read a book while travelling along while commuting. If traveling on such an autonomous vehicle would be appreciated by millions of motorists, the reality is very different and it is important to know the SAE Levels of Driving Automation™ – you’ll find it at the bottom of this article - to have a realistic view of what the market offers. Created by the Society of Automotive Engineers, an association of over 100,000 engineers involved in the transport sector,  the taxonomy divides the systems included on a car into five levels of automation and provides a scale to identify the current market situation and what we should expect in the next years.
In addition to knowing the technology, it is also important to evaluate the various risks associated with the use of cars equipped with driving assistance systems, despite the fact that manufacturers have made great strides in this matter in recent years.
Autonomous driving, beware of distractions and dirt
“Trusting is good, not trusting is better”. This ancient Italian saying is useful to summarize the approach to take with the current autonomous driving technologies mounted on cars currently on the market. The reason? To date, there is no technology capable of completely replacing man, especially during emergencies. On top of this, there is the ban on driving without hands and being distracted from driving, which often happens when watching videos of motorists in cars equipped with advanced driving systems. Another aspect comes from the maintenance of the car. In fact, autonomous driving technology is heavily dependent on sensors to gather data that helps navigate a vehicle safely. But what if a sensor has scratches on the lens that hinder its performance? Researchers at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology have come up with a revolutionary "self-healing" lens material that can help avoid self-driving car safety problems caused by this situation. According to Korean researchers, car accidents caused by recognition and malfunctions of vision systems such as self-driving cars' LiDAR and image sensors have occurred repeatedly. Many of the common optical equipment such as cameras, camcorders, and cell phones employ lenses as a means of capturing or distributing light. According to the team, if a scratch damages the lens surface, the image or optical signal received by the optical device can be severely distorted. The technology developed helps to solve problems related to signal distortion by restoring the scratches on the sensor surface. The special transparent lens material, when concentrated sunlight is irradiated with a simple tool such as a magnifying glass, has the ability to erase scratches on the sensor surface within 60 seconds helping to increase the life expectancy of the sensor. product, preventing malfunctions due to damage to its surface.
SAE Chart, the autonomous driving levels
SAE Level 0   The driver controls every action of the car and there are no interventions on driving, even in the case of warning systems.
SAE Level 1 Driving assistance is limited to automatic braking, speed maintenance and steering corrections in a few situations.
SAE Level 2   The car is able to proceed automatically in certain situations, such as on the motorway, since the system monitors what is happening around it. Hands must always remain on the steering wheel.
SAE Level 3   From here we can start talking about semi-autonomous driving, with the car capable of handling different situations even off the highway. The driver, read separately, must always remain alert and ready to intervene
SAE Level 4   We enter autonomous driving, with the car capable of proceeding for hundreds of kilometers and overcoming obstacles such as toll booths. There are no level 4 marketed models but only prototypes.
SAE Level 5   The system replaces the driver entirely, with the car capable of proceeding autonomously in any situation.

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