Self-Driving Cars

How soon will we see self-driving cars on the roads?

You may think that robotic self-driving cars are thing of science fiction. Not since 3D printing has a technology been so hyped up to imminently change our everyday lives.  But there is a lot of misunderstanding about artificial intelligence as it is employed in autonomous vehicles. In this article we look at how self-driving cars work and how they’re going to change the future of transportation.

Riley Wynn from Digital Trends says that despite all the developments in the technology, people are still scared of them.  Fear stems from a lack of understanding, so here is how self-driving cars work and how they will change the future of transportation.

One common misunderstanding is about what is a self-driving car.

Many of us at presently already own what can be classed as a low-level autonomous vehicle.  We take for granted such features as cruise control and ABS braking but these systems are autonomous in their own right.

In fact, autonomous vehicles have been classified into five categories, on a scale of increasing complexity.

Uber Self-driving vehicle

Category Levels of Autonomous Vehicles…

Level 0  All major systems are controlled by humans.  (The car you learnt to drive in)

Level 1  Certain systems such as cruise control and ABS are controlled by the car.  (Most modern vehicles on the road)

Level 2  At least two simultaneous automated functions like acceleration and steering but still has human override capability.

Level 3  The car commands all safety-critical functions under certain conditions but the driver is expected to take over when alerted.

Level 4  The car is fully autonomous in some scenarios but not all.

Level 5  The car is capable of self-driving in every situation.

Currently there are no technology companies that can offer a Level 5 fully autonomous car that will cope with any conditions on any road with no human overseer.

What robotic technologies are used to drive autonomous cars?

The main technologies employed in self driving cars are…

Radar sensors

Cameras

Internal GPS

Laser range finders

Sophisticated software

Lidar sensors
Lidar is a method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor. Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can then be used to make digital 3-D representations of the target. [Wikipedia]

How do self-driving vehicles work?

The lidar and the radar sensors feed information about the surrounds of the car to the central ai computer, which also gets information from the vehicle’s GPS (Global Positioning System) to precisely locate the vehicle in relation to other vehicles and objects.

The on-board cameras then step in to create a visual picture of what is around, to match the data points provided by the other technology.  This provides the ai central computer with information about anything that may be in the road, such as pedestrians or cyclists.

Self-driving vehicles are designed to make intelligent decisions on the best way to navigate around obstacles.  The ai computer aggregates all the received data from the sensors and then sends the information to the actuators in the car that control the braking, the throttle and the steering.  This is where the vehicle becomes robotically controlled. All these processes are repeated many times per second, in real time, to maintain control of the vehicle.  The robotic system replicates all the processes that a driver performs when behind the wheel and the eventual goal is that they will do it better than we humans can.

Who is building self-driving vehicles?

Waymo self-driving car
Several big-name companies are in the race to get autonomous vehicles on the road.  Companies like Apple, Google (Waymo) and Tesla and Uber.  Uber expects to have autonomous Volvos on the road by 2020 but has stated that there will always be a human on board to rescue the AI in case of an emergency.  Companies like Apple are focussing on shuttles and ride-sharing vehicles.

Delivery giants like Amazon, Fedex and UPS are looking at how they could take the driver out of truck driver.  Self-driving deliveries of packages could be the forerunner to self-driving vehicles for human passengers.

Level 5 autonomous vehicles on the roads are still a long way off but robotic vehicles for deliveries and shuttles could be just around the corner (literally).

Fear of autonomous vehicles

Nevertheless, many people are still worried about the safety issues with self-driving cars.

Let us know in the comments below if you would ride in or own a self-driving car.

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