Self-driving Cars

The technology behind self-driving cars

As the world slowly moves away from regular vehicles that require people to take the wheel, self-driving cars are already showing up on different roads in several countries– not only the USA.

Though these super convenient cars have not yet become the norm, self-driving cars are going to change everything about driving and vehicles as we know it. 

Billions of dollars have been invested into this project, and with the way companies like Tesla, Ford, Google, Alphabet, General Motors, and Baidu are going about the process of building versatile self-driving cars, regular vehicles will eventually become obsolete.

This is because when self-driving cars become the norm, no one (who can afford it) would pick a regular car over the one that they just have to speak to in order to move from one place to another.

Understanding self-driving cars

Self-driving cars are fondly referred to as autonomous vehicles because they mostly do not require external handling to be able to work. And without the involvement of a human operator, super vehicles use a combination of different technologies to work in the desired way.

With the use of cameras, different sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), and radars, self-driving technology has been brought to life. The only reason why they are not yet common on every road is because tests are still being carried out on their autonomous nature.

When these car manufacturers and tech giants complete their testing and provide fully autonomous cars, the common man will be able to walk into his car, open his computer, and start a full time job on his way to a different state. And this increase in productivity is just a tip of the iceberg when you consider the many economic benefits of using self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and full automation 

When it comes to the autonomous nature of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence simply means that the car will be able to think for itself without needing human intervention. This is actually the dream and goal of all the companies behind this project, but it is not all self-driving cars that will need artificial intelligence to work.

With certain automated features like lane assist and adaptive cruise control, a car will be able to drive itself without the need for AI. This is because there are levels to the way self-driving cars can operate, and it all depends on how much human contribution will be involved with the car.

The self-driving cars that you may have come across are mostly the types that do not require artificial intelligence to work, so a driver will still be needed in the car, even though he may not be doing a lot of work.

Since companies like Tesla and Google’s Waymo are working tirelessly on producing self-driving cars that are fully autonomous, the ones that just use automated features are no longer the main goal of this technology.

With this evolution, self-driving cars have autonomy levels from 0 to 5. At 0, human intervention will be needed at almost 100% of the time the car is working. While at level 5, a driver will be in the car and as it moves, he will be required to do absolutely nothing in order to get to his destination.

At level 5, a more sophisticated combination of technologies will be required. So the companies that are working on it apply artificial intelligence, machine learning, powerful hardware, customized software, and other necessary control measures.

How do self-driving cars work?

For self-driving cars to work with all the necessary technologies like machine learning and face or image recognition, a vast amount of data is involved. 

The machine learning algorithms will be fed with neural networks technology. As it identifies important patterns in the data that is provided for the building of self-driving technology.

With image recognition, street lights, traffic signs, people, trees, other vehicles, and anything else that the cameras on the self-driving cars can capture, will be passed to the neutral network system. This network will be able to identify the captured images and feed the correct data into the machine learning algorithm. 

It is a very advanced form of technology that is core to the operation of self-driving cars. Some of the cars being tested are already using this technology to not only identify what objects are around a self-driving car, but to also predict the next action of those captured items.

With technologies similar to RADAR, self-driving cars are going to be completely safe for people to use because all the data from multiple sources will work in sync to give accurate identification of any object within the driving area of the vehicle.

The more a user takes their self-driving car out to different destinations, the more data that the cameras and sensors can collect. And this will make the car more efficient because that additional data will ensure that the AI will make safer and more flexible driving decisions.

Just the way your computer can carry out heavy operations in a matter of seconds, the same also applies to self-driving cars. All the technologies that are working together, do so in a very fast way and if one is not familiar with the technology, it is going to look like magic!

For a typical self-driving car, here are the steps showing how it works:

  • It begins with you setting a destination for the car. As you type in or speak out the place you want to drive to, your self-driving car’s software will immediately calculate the route.
  • A sensor will start monitoring a convenient range about your car and this will help in creating a dynamic 3D map of your location in real-time.
  • With respect to this map, the sensor on any of the rear wheels of you car will detect your current position.
  • The radar systems linked to the front and rear bumpers of your self-driving car will calculate the distance between you and any obstacle on the road.
  • Through the AI software in your car, sensors and cameras will collect data to further enhance its functionality.
  • With the use of deep learning technology, AI software will be able to make your car use all the functions to think and act like a human driver would. This is how your self-driving car will know how to apply brakes and control the vehicle in a safe manner.
  • With an already installed map, your car will be able to know what is right ahead of your current location – such as landmarks or a traffic sign.
  • If there is ever a need for the person in the car to take the wheel, an override function will be available to make that happen.

The idea for self-driving cars has been around since around the year 2000, but the focus was mainly on automated features to enhance safety of drivers. Right now, things have evolved.

As with every advancement in technology, self-driving cars have evoked privacy, as well as security concerns in the minds of people. One can’t help but wonder where all the driving information will be stored or what will happen if a hacker gets access to them. But with the tech giants behind the scenes, there is hope for efficient security with self-driving cars.

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