How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?

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In the not so far future, cars will no longer be the emotive and expressive machines they are right now. They will be driven by electric motors and autonomous technology, which will take human control out of the equation. This isn’t just science fiction anymore. We’ve already come pretty far, where semi-autonomous technology is present in most upmarket vehicles and technology which translates into complete automation will be ready for deployment when we are. But how do self-driving or driverless cars work? How does one differentiate between semi-autonomous and autonomous technology and what’s with all the levels?

New Tesla Roadster (4)

How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?

Different manufacturers have developed and have been testing self-driving technologies, which might have a different approach towards achieving the common goal of complete automation. The one thing common about all these autonomous technologies is that their artificial intelligence uses tools (Radar, Lidar, sensors, laser, cameras, etc,) to become aware of its surroundings. This information is then processed by the software to chart a course and instruct the vehicle’s actuators which control acceleration, braking, and steering to work as told.

Nissan tests fully autonomous prototype technology on streets of Tokyo

Some basics are hard-coded and the technology is loaded with various algorithms and models to follow traffic rules and avoid obstacles while keeping occupants and other road users safe. The technology is also self-learning and improves as it spends more time being on the road. Since there will be other vehicles around, the self-driving car will also be connected in order to communicate with its environment and also receive real-time updates on things like weather, route conditions, traffic updates, etc.,

What Are The Different Levels Of Autonomy?

Starting from 0 until 5, there are six different levels of self-driving or autonomous technology:

  • Level 0: All major systems are controlled by humans
  • Level 1: Systems like the cruise control and automatic braking are controlled by the onboard computer. However, only one at a time
  • Level 2: Two functions are automated and controlled simultaneously by the car’s computer. For example, acceleration and steering can be handled by the car, given some preset conditions are met. However, there must be a human behind the steering wheel at all times for safe operation
  • Level 3: The car manages all safety-critical functions on its own as long as certain conditions are met. However, the driver is expected to take control when alerted
  • Level 4: The car is fully autonomous and can drive itself in most conditions, but not all
  • Level 5: The car can drive itself in every situation

Automated Fusion Hybrid Research Vehicle

What are the Pros and Cons related to Self-driving?

Humans are emotional, get physically tired, can get distracted, and these factors affect their driving skills. As a result, there are countless road incidents which happen around the World each day, and a lot of them are fatal. On the other hand, self-driving technology can work tirelessly without any break, isn’t emotional and will follow the hard-coded rules to obey traffic guidelines. Once all the cars on the roads are connected and self-driven, there will be no traffic jams or accidents, since all cars will be following traffic rules. Unless one of the cars goes rogue and breaks away from the grid or the technology goes kaput.

Autonomous Hexa rolling exterior

Also Read: BMW’s Autonomous Car Spooks a Real Ghost

On the other hand, implementation of Level 5 technology will require a complete transformation of our modes of road-based transportation. This will render all those jobless, who depend on driving-related work to earn their living. the entire infrastructure of our road networks will require an overhaul and nobody knows until now, how expensive or otherwise these cars will be. There is still no clarity as to how will breakdowns be handled because technology will still rely on mechanical components to work correctly. Also, there are fears about Artifical Intelligence becoming so brainy, it takes over to become our master. But as humans, we’ve never stopped evolving and sooner or later, there will be a time when the steering wheel will cease to exist.

Who Are The Manufacturers Working On Self-Driving Cars Or Driver-less Technology?

Almost every car company out there is working on self-driving cars. The list includes Ford, Volvo, Tata Motors, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Honda, and all other mainstream car makers. On the other hand, Tesla’s cars already offer the electric car maker’s ‘AutoPilot’ tech, while Google is not too far away from introducing its driverless car.

  • Ford
  • Volvo
  • Tata Motors
  • Audi
  • BMW
  • Mercedes
  • Nissan
  • Honda
  • Other mainstream car makers