The self-driving car revolution seems to be unstoppable.
A few years back autonomous driving sounded something impossible. Fortunately, in 2018, Waymo introduced its commercial self-driving service in Phoenix. Tesla and Google have also started manufacturing driverless cars. And soon, we are going to have cars that drive us to our destinations without us holding the steering.
But are self-driving cars safe? Or why do we need self-driving cars in the first place? Many people have been asking how self-driving cars work.
That’s why in this article, you are going to learn what self-driving cars are, their levels, how they work, and the technology inside.
Think about it: A recent study suggests that 94 to 96% of automobile accidents are caused by human error. And many people have died from car accidents.
What if we could have cars that could drive people safely?
That’s why companies are working tirelessly to bring driverless cars into the market.
Self-driving cars are expected to minimize lots of problems with traffic delays to accidents. Besides, they will simplify movement in other areas like shipping, emergency transportation, etc.
Generally, driverless cars are going to shape the automotive landscape in the future.
What Is a Self-Driving Car?
A self-driving car, also known as “driverless” or an autonomous vehicle is a car or truck that operates without human intervention. It uses specially-designed hardware and software to detect the weather, obstacles, and road conditions when moving from one destination to another.
Usually, self-driving cars are categorized into 5 levels of autonomy which include:
This is the lowest level of autonomy of a self-driving car where a human driver is involved but they share control with the car system. Most cars with Adaptive Cruise Control System fall at this level.
In this level, a human driver is required to constantly monitor the system but the car system takes full control of the acceleration, steering, and brakes. Sometimes a human driver may be required to hold the steering wheel though.
In this level of autonomy, the automated system takes full control of the car. That means the driver can even watch a movie or even do other tasks while the car is being driven by the system. Some cars in this level may require a driver to intervene, although not full-time intervention.
In this level of autonomy, the automated system takes full control of the car although in limited areas or controlled locations.
Cars in level 5 can drive without human control.
Why Use Self-Driving Cars?
Apart from the reduction in traffic congestion, collisions, and fatalities, driverless cars have plenty of benefits like:
• Driverless cars are safe
Even though a huge number of accidents are caused by careless drivers, sometimes factors like illness, driver fatigue, and many others can lead to these accidents. Self-driving cars aren’t affected by these factors as they use automated systems to control and drive the car from one destination to another.
• Autonomous cars are attentive
They are controlled by automated systems that scan the environment before the car makes a move. That means the car won’t move if the system senses an obstacle ahead or bad weather.
• Reduced fuel spend
Fuel consumption is a threat to the automotive industry, especially in developing countries. Sometimes prices of gas can shoot the ceiling.
Thankfully, automated cars can help to reduce fuel spend.
• Increased productivity
Self-driving cars relieve people from the hassles of controlling the steering which means you can drive to your workplace while working on your projects.
The reduced traffic congestion and collisions mean that you can reach your workplace much faster hence less time is spent on the road.
How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?
Hoping that you now know what self-driving cars are, let’s take a look at how they interact with the environment.
Of course, a self-driving car isn’t just another robot. It’s the same car you might be driving; however, companies manufacturing self-driving technologies have introduced mechanisms that help the car to interact with the environment safely.
Most cars in Level 3 and above use a combination of hardware, software, and machine learning to move from one location to another.
The technologies integrated into self-driving cars to help them operate include:
Radio detection and ranging
The Radar or Radio Detection and Ranging technology is meant to increase the sensing capability of a self-driving car especially at night, or when the weather is stormy.
When driving, the Radar emits radio waves that can tell whether there’s an oncoming car or obstacles ahead as well as the speed of an oncoming car. Note that Radar may sometime not transmit accurate information regarding the objects surrounding the car.
Light detection and ranging
Unlike Radar that emits radio waves, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) emits lasers which have a higher resolution that can detect any object surrounding the car. Also, LiDAR transmits the information faster and accurately. LiDAR sensors can detect even the smallest objects like a rolling ball.
The car will stop immediately if the object poses danger to the car or the object.
LiDAR may not transmit accurate information in times of snow, smoke, or fog though.
Computer vision software
These are high-resolution cameras that enable the car to identify objects in corners.
Most of the Tesla autopilot cars have 8 cameras facing outside so the car can detect anything surrounding it.
These cameras don’t work effectively in stormy, foggy, or areas with dense smog though. But self-driving cars are designed in a way that if one system doesn’t work, they won’t move.
Graphics processing units
These are computer chips helpful for facilitating the real-time process of all sensor data effectively.
Unlike the standard computer that has a Central Processing Unit, the computational power needed in self-driving cars is so high that a CPU can’t handle it. That’s why the GPU was introduced. But even this chip isn’t enough given the amount of data processing and speed of transmission needed in driverless cars.
That’s why Tesla introduced the Neural Network Accelerators-NNA that can process the 2100 frames per second for 35 billion GOPS in their chip that’s faster in the data processing.
Problems Facing Self-Driving Cars
Even though the self-driving car revolution is unstoppable, challenges are facing it. Some of them are even keeping Level 5 autonomy from being implemented.
Some of the challenges include:
• Traffic rules in developing countries
Road traffic rules are different from one country to another. For instance, the roads in Canada are way too different from those in developing countries.
This means that developing countries still have a long way when it comes to the adoption of self-driving cars.
• Failures of the automated system
As mentioned above, the automated system especially the external cameras and sensors may not detect and transmit accurate data when objects are blocked from view. This means that during snowstorms or if the weather is full of smog the car cannot detect anything in the surrounding environment.
• Cybersecurity threats
The hardware and software components integrated into self-driving cars are all the works of a human being. This means that they are vulnerable to cyberattacks.
The self-driving car revolution albeit being faced with challenges seems to be a lifesaver in our roads. Even though only Tesla and Google are leading in the manufacture of driverless cars, we can expect to see many companies getting into the wave soon which will help bring down the prices of these cars.
Donna James is a high skilled freelance essay writer and proofreader from Michigan, United States who currently works on various projects focused on the IT&C industry apart from her work at NSBroker as a technical analysis specialist. She is interested in everyday development and writes blog posts on various topics, such as marketing and technology.