The age of autonomous driving is upon us.

Automakers are making the tech-tastic promise of self-driving cars a reality. From street ready auto-drive systems to beta-tests of fully automated vehicles, the industry is driving towards a future where humans no longer sit behind the wheel.

Most players in this space are ushering in this era through incremental innovation. The “levels” of innovation are based on a six-part classification system published in 2014 by the Society of Automotive Engineers International, an automotive standardization body.  In 2016, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration officially adopted them as the standard for autonomous vehicle technology.

The difference between the levels can be boiled down to the level of driver intervention and attentiveness needed to operate the vehicle. And while the levels may not be what new car buyers see on a spec sheet, they help clarify the principles behind different systems in development. They also help state and local governments set rules as to which self-driving systems may or may not be allowed on roadways.

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