The ‘future’ is finally here as self-driving cars aren’t a ‘what if?’ but rather a ‘why not’? Just a few years ago it was largely uncharted territory but now, every major car manufacturer is pursuing the technology and some autonomous vehicles are already on the road in Paris, Singapore and several states in the US.
What Car Manufacturers Are Involved?
GM tops the list with Daimler-Bosch (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz), Ford, Volkswagen and BMW not far behind. What’s more, whole manufacturers are working together, with Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi having formed an alliance while Volvo, Autoliv, Ericsson and Zenuity have formed a separate alliance.
With GM having promised the release of driverless taxis in large cities by 2019, it’s about time we all figured out how they work.
How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?
In short: self-driving cars create and maintain an internal map of their surroundings using lasers, sensors, radars and even sonar. Every system is different and technologies (unsurprisingly) continue to evolve. The ‘map’ is then continually processed by the cars software and a path is plotted. The car is able to accelerate, brake and steer through actuators while algorithms, codes and predictive modelling help the car follow the rules of the road and avoid hitting people and other objects.
Machine Learning and AI
The most important feature of these man-less machines is Machine Learning. This AI (artificial intelligence) tool trains computers to detect pedestrians and differentiate between a bicycle and a motorcycle. Because it’s impossible to write a rule (those algorithms we talked about above) for every situation in this complex world, the cars have to be trained to learn and navigate on their own.
There are currently several levels of autonomy and researchers have created a scale from 0-5.
Most of us are currently driving either a Level 0 or a Level 1, with Level 0 being a car completely controlled by the human and Level 1 being a car that has features like cruise control. Level 2 offers several systems, like automatic acceleration and braking, but it still requires a human for operation. Moving up to Level 3, the car can – for all intents and purposes – drive on its own, but a human can be alerted to take over under certain circumstances. Level 4 is a fully autonomous car in most situations while Level 5 is fully autonomous and self-drives in every situation.
With Level 5’s driving around several cities in the world on their own, we should expect to see them in the UK sooner than any of us could have expected.