The coronavirus pandemic has been bad news for many automakers and suppliers working on fully autonomous vehicles.
Marelli CEO Beda Bolzenius told Automotive News Europe that because of the virus "a large number of predevelopment activities, prototypes and pilot projects have been canceled."
Marco Monti, head of automotive at chipmaker STMicroelectronics, told Automotive News Europe: "COVID-19 has triggered the cancellation or postponement of all activities relative to full-autonomous vehicles. Many Level 3 to Level 5 programs have been postponed or canceled. Conversely, Level 2 is gaining ground."
Level 2 describes the advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) already offered on many cars. These systems help, but the driver remains responsible for the vehicle at all times.
Use of a term the describes a variation of Level 2 -- called Level 2 Plus -- has become commonplace across the industry although the term is not officially recognized by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which has definitions for Level 0 (no assistance) to Level 5 (full autonomy).
Some argue that Level 2 Plus is an invention of those who want to convey the progress and sophistication of their ADAS without accepting the responsibility that comes with higher levels of automation.
At STMicroelectronics Level 2 Plus means the vehicle has Level 2 functions that have been further enhanced by features "such as connectivity or redundancy through software," Monti said.
"This way the car acquires a certain degree of autonomy, while the driver is still responsible at all times," he said, calling Level 2 Plus "an optimum equilibrium" because the customer gets enough assistance to avoid trouble if distracted momentarily.
"This has allowed these systems to gain a lot of new customers," Monti said.
Veoneer CEO Jan Carlson has had a similar experience.
"We are seeing the greatest amount of interest for Level 2 Plus," he said.
The Swedish radar and driver-assistance software specialist describes Level 2 Plus as ADAS that provide additional help to the driver under more conditions and at higher speeds.
This, however, adds risk as some drivers have already put too much reliance on Level 2 systems, sometimes with fatal results. Therefore, Carlson believes that vehicles equipped with Level 2 Plus will need frequent reminders that their cars are not capable to doing the driving.
"We believe the Level 2 Plus will require the addition of some type of driver monitoring systems to make sure the driver remains in control," Carlson said.