Self-driving cars are vehicles enhanced with sensors and software to increase sensitivity to their surroundings. These enhancements include radar, sonar, geographical positioning, odometry, and measurements in movement. There are advanced control processes that will identify and interpret this data to understand the best path of movement and how best to avoid obstacles. The self-driving car can also identify if a person is in the path, how to read road signs, and if there is a problem that could cause a collision.
Many of the world’s largest manufacturers currently harness the technology to make their vehicles self-driving. However, different companies have different approaches to them. Read on to learn about these key differences.
The Technology Behind Self-Driving Cars: Levels of Automation
Self-driving cars include technology that is embedded within the vehicle through software and features in the hardware. Self-driving capabilities range from basic assistance to the vehicle completely controlling the vehicle. The SAE breaks down levels of automation from 0 to 5.
Between levels 0 and 3, the driver is behind the wheel and always supervises the vehicle. The driver may control the vehicle. Level 0 includes advanced warnings, emergency assistance, and additional features such as blind-spot warning and emergency brakes. Level 1 can provide steering or brake assistance and adaptive cruise control or lane centering. At level 2, these same features are combined in one system.
Starting at level 3, the driver may remain behind the wheel, but it is no longer necessary to take control or supervise once the self-drive feature is in effect. However, the car may require the driver to take control when it indicates. Level 3 aids with traffic jams and self-driving when the driving environment meets certain conditions. Level 4 does not require the driver to take control and may not indicate manual driving is necessary. Automated features may change the design of the car by removing the steering wheel or pedals. These vehicles still require certain conditions for fully autonomous driving. Level 5 is a true self-driving car without any need for the driver to take control at any point. No conditions are necessary for self-driving. In fact, a person may not even be in the vehicle.
Which Big Car Companies are Investing in it the Most?
The future of automotive transportation may include self-driving cars, and big car companies are cashing in on these investments of innovation. From sleek design to increased performance, self-driving cars are catching the eyes of big car companies. These investments are starting to bear fruit, as self-driving cars are beginning to become a reality.
Some of the big car companies behind the self-driving car revolution include:
A known innovator in electric cars, Tesla is one of the biggest investors in self-driving cars. Current features available on their self-driving cars include autopilot with advanced safety and optimized navigation. You can start from your home and the car will take you to your destination using an app on your phone in areas where the technology works.
The makers of Volvo cars are currently investing in creating self-driving vehicles they plan to sell in 2022. Unlike cars in other companies, these will only self-engage in certain conditions. These include safe conditions and non-dangerous highway paths. Similar to Tesla, there are sensors designed to assist in navigation and determining if the conditions on the road are safe for self-driving and to avoid collisions.
While also investing in the self-driving car, Volkswagen will provide these later in 2025 along with AI to aid in the self-driving aspect. Similar to Volvo, these vehicles will only self-engage in certain conditions that include geofenced locations and predefined routes. Drivers do not give up the wheel until conditions are met.
The makers of GM cars have invested in these self-driving cars, but the proposal to roll them out is still in the pre-planning stage. Unlike other companies, GM may not sell the cars but rather provide a subscription service. The self-driving capability may be available in all road conditions.
The self-driving car provided by BMW plans to have limited capacity for self-driving in only certain conditions on the road. These conditions require little to no obstruction, optimal weather, and non-complicated environmental factors. The primary focus is safety and providing a self-drive that is free of difficulties.
Safety Concerns of Autonomous Vehicles
There are a few safety concerns that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has pointed out that could affect the viability of self-driving cars. These include the following:
- Sensor errors that could lead to a collision
- Prediction errors that occur when the car makes a judgment that leads to a problem such as leading the driver to a wrong road or moving faster than necessary
- Planning errors that may lead to driving too fast or too slow based on certain road conditions or not distancing the car enough from others
- Execution errors involving incorrect evasive maneuvers and other misjudgments when taking control of the car, including overcompensation
- Incapacitation errors when drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol get behind the wheel
Studies also show that drivers tend to rely too much on driver-assistance technologies and are not prepared to take back control of the vehicle when necessary.
Additional safety concerns about autonomous vehicles include:
Lack of Control in Emergency Situations
Some self-driving cars revert to user control in emergency situations while others do not, largely depending on the level of automation. When the vehicle is at level 4 or 5, and fully autonomous control is given to the car, the driver has little way of stopping it. There may not be an override button. If there is the potential for a collision, the possibility of hitting a pedestrian, or if someone in the car is having a medical issue, stopping the vehicle or taking control may be difficult.
Hackers are a very real concern with self-driving cars. A cybercriminal can take over the software and cause harm, death, or vehicle damage when the vehicle is unsecured. When the vehicle has software-controlled hardware or systems that run on computers such as Tesla’s cars, some hackers find it easier to access internal systems. These vehicles may face an even more serious problem when the cybercriminal can connect to multiple cars at once through networks.
The sensors within autonomous vehicles may fail to identify an obstruction and cause a collision. The higher the level of automation, the less the driver has control to prevent these problems. Sensors involved in these issues may include cameras, motion detection or odometry, and environmental detection. When these sensors fail, the car may crash into something or someone. AAA notes that these sensors often fail at night and may not prevent pedestrian collisions.
When considering which vehicle to purchase, you should learn what level of automation it has, what features the company provides, and what current technology is present with the current model. All these factors will assist you in determining which one is best and what self-driving cars to avoid. The greater investment the company has made in autonomous vehicles, the safer you will likely be.
Ben is a Web Operations Executive at InfoTracer who takes a wide view of the whole system. He authors guides on entire security posture, both physical and cyber. Enjoys sharing the best practices and does it the right way!