An autonomous car is capable of sensing its surroundings and operating without the help of a human being. This vehicle is not required to have a human passenger to drive. It can go anywhere that a classic car can go.
Self-Driving vs. Automated vs. Autonomous
The Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines automated as a type of vehicle capable of making its own decisions without the help of a human being. A fully autonomous car would be capable of making its own choices based on intelligence. For instance, if you want to go to the beach, you could ask your car to take you there instead.
Although the terms autonomous and self-driving are often interchangeably used, the former refers to a vehicle capable of driving itself in certain situations. On the other hand, the latter requires a human passenger to be present and ready to take over to operate. These vehicles are classified according to their level of automation, either Level 3 or 4.
How Do Autonomous Cars Work?
An autonomous car is built on various sensors and complex algorithms. These are combined with powerful processors and other electronic components to perform multiple tasks.These components create a map of the vehicle’s surroundings based on the various sensors placed in its parts. Some of these include radar sensors designed to monitor the position of the cars in the surrounding area. In addition, video cameras are also used to monitor the various activities of the vehicle. Light detection and ranging sensors are used to measure the distance of the cars and identify the road edges.
The sophisticated software of an autonomous car then processes all of this sensory input and plots a path for the vehicle. It then instructs the car’s actuators to perform various actions such as steering, acceleration, and braking. Some of the other features that are used in this system include obstacle avoidance algorithms and predictive modeling.
Although fully autonomous cars are currently being tested in various regions worldwide, they are still years away from being fully available to the public. Some technological and legislative issues now hindering this technology’s development include the environment and philosophy.
- Lidar and Radar
A main issue hindering the development of self-driving technology is the cost of developing lidar sensors. Would their signals interfere if multiple autonomous cars were on the same road?
In severe weather conditions, such as when there’s a layer of snow on the road, the lane markings of an autonomous vehicle might disappear. The sensors and cameras of this technology might also be unable to track the markings if the road is covered in ice, water, or debris.
- Traffic Laws
In addition, if autonomous cars encounter issues in tunnels or bridges, they might have to navigate through the traffic in bumper-to-bumper conditions. Some of the other problems that are hindering the development of this technology include the lack of dedicated lanes for vehicles.
- State vs. Federal Regulation
The federal government’s approach to regulating the development of self-driving technology has shifted to a state-by-state basis. In the U.S., some states have proposed implementing a per-mile tax on autonomous vehicles to prevent the emergence of zombie cars. Also, some lawmakers have proposed requiring all self-driving cars to have a panic button and be equipped with zero-emission vehicles.