SAE defines its highest tier of vehicle autonomy — Level 5 — as an ability for automated driving features, like adaptive cruise control and automated braking, to operate a car "everywhere in all conditions." In a Level 5 autonomous car, the driver does not have to be in control at all.

So if the driver is out of the picture, who takes responsibility for the vehicle technology if there is an accident or malfunction?

In a live Tech Briefs presentation titled Data-Driven Development and Breakthroughs for New Mobility Technologies, a reader had the following questions for industry expert Modar Horani, a Managing Principal of Systems Engineering at umlaut, a New York City-based advisory:

Who is responsible for the Level 5 autonomous car? The manufacturer, or the owner, or the user? Who or what cleans the sensors of Level 5 autonomous cars?

Read Modar Horani's edited response below.

Modar Horani: I think being able to answer this question would be a function of understanding what is the Level 5 reality that we would live in. Is Level 5 autonomy a service, or is it a product?

If it is a product, if I purchased it, then I own it. If it is a service, and I’m subscribing to it, then it’s a question to the service provider. And is the service provider the manufacturers, or is it the software company that maybe achieves a universal implementation of autonomy across different platforms? I think that is yet to be determined. It’s unclear yet, and it might vary also.

It might not be that one solution fits everything, and once you understand the use case and determine the responsibility of what is on the manufacturer, what is on the service provider, and what is on the owner or the subscriber, then we can determine whether it’s a self-cleaning mechanism [for sensors].

Is there going to be a different way of sensing?

Are we going to rely 100 percent on the onboard sensors, or is it going to split more towards infrastructure, and these vehicles will be operating like nodes to a central brain that is somewhere in the cloud? That is yet to be resolved and that would help us advance in answering this great question that makes everyone wonder about the role into the future of this technology.

What do you think about who is responsible for the Level 5 self-driving car? Share your comments and questions below.