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How Driverless Cars Actually Work

Across the globe, autonomous cars or self-driving cars are all the rage in the mobility sector. A self-driving car is capable of sensing the environment it’s in and navigate its way around a route without any human inputs. The success of this vehicle relies upon its understanding of the route and its external surroundings using technologies such as GPS, sonar sensors, cameras, rangefinders, etc.

Automotive giants are leading the herd when it comes to developing self-driving technologies but they are not alone in this quest. Companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Cisco, and Microsoft have also jumped into this world and are exploring the use of these technologies to build their self-driving vehicles and other tools. They are partnering with automotive companies, research institutions, and the government to invest resources into making these solutions available at a larger scale. Furthermore, trucks, tractors, and cargo machinery are also being tested with these solutions. In fact, in 2016, an electric bus hit the roads in Finland with no driver and automotive systems.

Self-driving cars have multiple levels

When we think of a self-driving car, our vision tends to get quite binary in that it either drives itself or not. But automotive experts break down this process into 5 basic levels:

  • Level 0 is the state of ‘zero automation’ where the system may keep warning systems on but the rest of the controls are manual.
  • Level 1 is what is popularly termed as ‘driver assistance’ with assistance in steering or braking but not both (for example, cruise control.)
  • Level 2 is ‘partial assistance’ where functions such as acceleration, braking, and steering are performed by the system; however, the driver is still in control.
  • Level 3 is termed as ‘conditional automation where the driver can move his attention off the road at times.
  • Level 4 is ‘high automation’ where the system can take over the entire driving function barring special cases such as during rain and snow.
  • Level 5 is ‘full automation’ where no human intervention is required. This is a completely autonomous system.

So how do driverless cars actually work?

With self-driving cars, drivers will be able to go from one location to another without ever taking the wheel. Their vehicles use sensors and software to detect other vehicles, motorists, bikers, pedestrians, and roadwork from up to two football fields away in every direction. Furthermore, these vehicles are programmed to drive defensively, stay out of blind spots, and adjust to unforeseen changes.

Features of self-driving cars you’re unaware of

While most of us may not have access to self-driving technology in cars, the line of difference between a regular car and a self-driving car is blurring. Many operators are equipping their models with sensors, GPS, sonar, and laser technologies to assist automated functions, automatic braking, cruise control feature, collision avoidance, lane detection, 360-degree camera view, and more. By 2023, over 13 million vehicles are expected to be driving on roads across the globe with self-driving features.

Savings on tax money and insurance

A major chunk of the tax-payers’ money is spent on road accident rehabilitation to cover car crash costs. Self-driving cars are expected to reduce these costs as the number of accidents in a driverless ecosystem is predicted to be a lot lesser. Another area of savings for customers is car insurance cover. With the manufacturers investing billions of dollars to improve the safety scares associated with driverless cars, the industry predicts them to cover insurance, repairs, and warranty costs in the purchase or lease price.

Active investments by the government

If you think only automotive manufacturers and technology players are investing in the development of autonomous vehicles, you are mistaken. Governments across the globe are investing trillions of dollars into self-driving technologies and other automated mobility systems. Carnegie Mellon’s Navlab project, where a self-driving car drove from Pittsburgh to San Diego was predominantly funded by the U.S. federal government. Along with this, governments are also paying heed to regulations and bottlenecks that would assist this industry, if dealt with efficiently.

Driverless technology may transcend into Mars rover technology

Nissan MotoCorp. revealed plans to incorporate NASA’s technology used for Mars rovers into driverless technology to help control their fleet of driverless cars. NASA used a system called Visual Environment for Remote Virtual Exploration (VERVE) which involved humans mapping out routes around obstacles. Nissan’s Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) system works on the same principle, which is that a self-driving car can call on a person for help if the car is stuck.

Self-driving cars have invited both admiration and skepticism from consumers; however, this technology is here to stay and is only going to grow by leaps and bounds. With the collective efforts of automobile manufacturers, technology firms, and the government, this system can be perfected and launched for the masses in due time.

Computers can be considered legal drivers of vehicles

Noting that in early 2016, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration determined that under federal law computers could be considered legal drivers of vehicles, Darrell West and Jack Karsten of the Center for Technology Innovation write that, “With the combined efforts of the technology industry, automakers, and federal regulators, driverless cars could achieve widespread use sooner than many drivers and policymakers might expect.”

With technology companies and automakers continuing to make advances on driverless cars, and with increased federal research, companies like Toyota are saying they aim to deliver driverless vehicles around 2020. Given this pace of development, West and Karsten argue that “creating a national strategy for driverless cars is a crucial task for federal transportation officials.”

Autonomous vehicles are expected to comprise 25 percent of the global market between 2035 and 2040

A closer look at the technology, budget, regulations, legalities, and policy frameworks for autonomous vehicles and their impact in China, Europe, Japan, Korea, and the United States shows that government officials and business leaders have to will soon have to work together to bring driverless cars to the world because the technology used for autonomous vehicles will have advanced to the point where it will spread into key niches such as ride-sharing, taxis, delivery trucks, industrial applications, and transportation for senior citizens and the disabled.

In the foreseeable future, people and businesses will have driverless options to take them safely to their destinations and it is important for leaders to provide reasonable guidance on how to commercialize advanced technologies in transportation.

The future of driverless cars

State and local governments derive billions of dollars in revenue from speeding tickets, DUIs, towing fees, and other driver-related laws. It can be argued that while the safety improvements offered by autonomous vehicles will remove these sources of revenue, the technology will save taxpayers an estimated $10 billion every year by eliminating “inefficiencies” in the transportation system such as congestion, road damage, and deaths.

Even if the public sector refuses to innovate, government entities will save big bucks from the impending driverless car revolution. Billions will be saved as a result of increased safety, and the reduction of transportation inefficiencies unfolds a bright future for autonomous vehicles.

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