The 5 Automation Levels of a Self-Driving Network – Part 1

Network automation means different things to different people and organizations. In this article, I would like to explain the various maturity levels of automation of a Self-Driving Network. Rather than going straight into explaining what a Self-Driving Network is and listing its automation levels, I am going to draw a direct and easy analogy using objects everyone can relate to: cars, self-driving cars to be precise.

I promise by the end of this article you would be able to understand the concept clearly by this virtue of comparison. So, here we go.

Self-Driving Vehicle

In the automotive world, self-driving or autonomous driving is becoming a reality. Leading edge companies like Tesla, Google, Apple to household names like Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo are all busy developing and testing their autonomous vehicles.

From Wikipedia, an autonomous car (also known as a driver-less car, self-driving car, robotic car) and unmanned ground vehicle is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.

Self-Driving Vehicles
Self-Driving Vehicles

What is so good about a car that can drive itself? Well, various researches have shown a vast disruptive potential of the emerging technology. The potential benefits of autonomous cars include:

  • Reduced mobility and infrastructure costs
  • Increased safety
  • Increased mobility
  • Increased customer satisfaction and reduced crime
  • A significant reduction in traffic collisions, the resulting injuries, and related costs, including less need for insurance
  • Increased traffic flow
  • Enhanced mobility for children, the elderly, disabled and the poor
  • Relieve travelers from driving and navigation chores
  • Lower fuel consumption
  • Significantly reduce needs for parking space
  • Reduce crime, and
  • Facilitate business models for transportation as a service, especially via the sharing economy

Okay, you get it, but what do self-driving cars have anything to do with network automation? Before I answer that, let’s understand first the different automation levels of a self-driving car.

Self-Driving Vehicle Automation Levels

SAE International, an automotive standardization body, classifies different levels of driving automation, as follows:

  • Level 0 – No Automation (“Manual”): Automated system issues warnings and may momentarily intervene but has no sustained vehicle control.
  • Level 1 – Drive Assistance (“Hands On”): Driver and automated system shares control over the vehicle. The driver must be ready to retake full control at any time.
  • Level 2 – Partial Automation (“Hands Off”): The automated system takes full control of the vehicle (accelerating, braking, and steering). The driver must monitor the driving and be prepared to immediately intervene at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly.
  • Level 3 – Conditional Automation (“Eyes Off”): The driver can safely turn their attention away from the driving tasks, e.g. the driver can text or watch a movie. The vehicle will handle situations that call for an immediate response, like emergency braking. The driver must still be prepared to intervene within some limited time, specified by the manufacturer, when called upon by the vehicle to do so.
  • Level 4 – High Automation (”Mind Off”): As level 3, but no driver attention is ever required for safety. Self-driving is supported only in limited areas (geo-fenced) or under special circumstances, like traffic jams.
  • Level 5 – Full Automation (”Wheel Off”): No human intervention is required on any of the controls, steering wheel, brake, or else. An example would be a robotic taxi.

These different levels of classification are illustrated in the following table. Note what happens in the shift from SAE 2 to from SAE 3: the human driver no longer has to monitor the environment. This is the final aspect of the ”dynamic driving task” that is now passed over from the human to the automated system. At SAE 3, the human driver still has the responsibility to intervene when asked to do so by the automated system. At SAE 4 the human driver is relieved of that responsibility and at SAE 5 the automated system will never need to ask for an intervention.

SAE Levels
SAE Levels – Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car#Classification

Alright, now that you understand the benefits and various levels of automation of self-driving cars, what do they have in common with network automation? A lot as it happens. Please keep on reading as they will become crystal clear in Part 2 by using direct comparisons between the two self-driving concepts.

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