It started with “maybe impossible” about self-driving cars and led to “definitely possible.” Over the past years, it had become commercially available when Waymo emerged from Google’s driverless car project and officially started it in Dec 2018.
It was restricted to a few riders only while having safety operators on their backs. Later, it became publicly available to run the robotaxis without drivers inside. However, not everyone is aware of these autonomous cars. So, let’s explore more about self-driving cars, so you can decide to get one for you too.
What are Self-Driving Cars?
Self-driving cars, also known as autonomous or driverless cars, combine sensors, radar, cameras, and artificial intelligence with traveling across different destinations without a driver to operate. Popular companies trying to develop and test such cars include Ford, Google, General Motors, Audi, BMW, Tesla, and Volvo.
History of Driverless Cars
It started before 2000 with antilock brakes and cruise control with incremental automation features for safety and convenience. Later, between 2010 and 2016, automatic emergy brakes, rearview video cameras, and lane-centering assistance were also included to enhance the innovation in AI technology.
After 2016, some more automatic features to stay in the driver’s lane with safety, the self-park ability, and ACC technology while making the car partially autonomous. Remember, fully autonomous cars are not available yet and can take further years. The main reason is the unqualified infrastructure that doesn’t matches with the driverless car’s working. So we would have to work on that one too.
How do Autonomous Cars Work?
Mainly, self-driving cars are AI technology-driven systems. To be more precise, developers build systems while using enormous data from image recognition besides neural networks and machine learning.
Furthermore, the car’s software processes all the sensory input and sends instructions to the car’s actuator. It further controls the different compartments, including braking, steering, and acceleration.
Five Levels of Autonomy
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explains five autonomy levels while starting from zero, the drive is required to the fifth, where the car is fully autonomous. Here’s a list:
- The first level includes steering, braking, and acceleration.
- This stage added features to allow the driver to have information behind the wheels.
- The car was able to self-park.
- The system was upgraded to monitor the driving environment under certain circumstances.
- The driver is not a driver anymore but a passenger.
Some Common Self-Driving Features
Of course, self-driving cars are not entirely autonomous and still require a person to sit inside the cat to operate. However, you can achieve the highest level of autonomy till now. At the same time, you can find some cars with lower autonomy levels but still have some driverless driving features. Here’s a list of some common features:
- You get the hands-free steering without having your hands on the wheel. However, you have to pay attention whatsoever.
- The car’s adaptive cruise control (ACC) automatically maintains a specific distance from other cars around it.
- Another great feature is lane-centering steering that pushes the car toward the opposite lane marking when the drive crosses lane markings.
Do You Need a Driving Licence for Autonomous Cars?
In the future, you may not need a license for these autonomous cars. Still, you may require to pass the driver learners test and practical driving test to qualify because it’s important to know the basics of the rules and regulations to drive on the road. As discussed earlier, these cars are not entirely autonomous and still require commands by the person sitting inside them.
Safety Challenges to Self-Driving Cars
Besides some cons, there are many challenges to the innovative technology equipped in these cars. For instance, tunnels on the roads can divert the GPS accuracy. Another great safety challenge can be recognizing the emergency vehicle, like Police and Ambulance, to let them pass. At the same time, interacting with unidentified objects on the road might also be challenging.
In a case study in March 2018, an autonomous Uber car ran over a pedestrian and ending up causing injuries to the person. Later, it was found that the software did recognize the person and failed to avoid hitting her.
However, China is working to overcome these safety challenges to society due to autonomous cars. Also, they are designing urban infrastructure to ensure it meets the self-driving car’s working for further safety.
Pros and Cons of Driverless Cars
One of the important benefits you’re going to get from these cars is incredible safety. Actually, most traffic accidents that lead to deaths are due to human errors, either negligence, being distracted, or drunk. According to NHTSA, around 94% of serious crashes are due to human errors. So, these errors can be minimized through innovative self-driving cars.
However, there are chances of severe accidents due to car system errors because this system can also break down. Unless this technology is upgraded to levels where system errors are minimized to zero. In that case, these driverless cars can be considered absolutely safe.