Self-Driving Cars: What, Where, When and How

From a non-engineer to non-engineers

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

What is a self-driving car?

Self-driving car (autonomous car) is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and moving safely with little or no human input.

There are 5 levels of driving automation:

Source: SAE International

Level 0

  • No autonomous systems, apart from implemented notification system — signal boards, sounds, etc.
  • The conventional cars
  • Human is responsible

Level 1

  • “hands on”
  • The car is driven by the driver, but automated systems (automated braking or a warning of a lane crossing) can work.
  • Human is responsible

Level 2

  • “pay attention”
  • The car would have at least 2 of an automated functions. For instance, it could be cruise control and automated braking.
  • The car can operate mostly without a driver. However, the driver must pay attention and take control in non-standard cases. For example, it could be a situation where another car is suddenly crossing the lane or cuts your car.
  • The autonomous system can be turned on/ off at any time according to the driver’s request.
  • Human is responsible

Level 3

  • “eyes off”
  • The car is almost autonomous, especially on the highways or motorways as these are the roads with ‘predictable’ traffic.
  • However, similar to the Level 2, the driver must be ready to take over at any time as there might be non-standard road situations.
  • Human and Vehicle takes responsibility

Level 4

  • “mind off”
  • The driver’s attention is no longer required. Level 4 is an almost completely autonomous vehicle, especially on the roads with ‘predictable traffic’.
  • Vehicle is responsible

Level 5

  • “chauffeured”
  • No actions are required from the driver, apart from starting the system and inputting the destination. The 100% autonomous cars will drive you to any place you need.
  • Vehicle is responsible

Where are we right now? Which stage?

Here is a very interesting table that answers this question perfectly:

SAE Levels of Self-Driving Automation

Is a self-driving car a 21st century idea?

Photo by Jorgen Hendriksen on Unsplash

It all started back in the distant 1930s, when the engineers at General Motors came up with two brilliant and innovative ideas:

  1. The first idea was to make the cars controlled by radio signals. In this case, the cars will be able to control the distance to other cars and avoid emergencies.
  2. The second idea was meant to address the potential risks of the autonomous trips. To build special roads in a form of skateboard ramps. Cars will drive in the middle of the road. If they start to drift away or lean to the side of the road, the force of gravity will return them to their place-in the middle of the road.

Of course at that time, these ideas were met with a lot of skepticism. However, they provided a powerful impact for the development of technology in the right direction.

Already in the 1950s, General Motors engineers have tested the “smart” car Firebird II.

Source of the image

The cars’ designer, Harley Earl, took his inspiration from the innovations in fighter aircraft design at the time.

The car wasn’t produced in order to enter the mass market, but rather as a concept car. The idea was to demonstrate the application of the newest technology abilities into modern design.

The Firebird II featured a new braking system, magnetic sensors and was able to interact with the ‘smart’ road. In this case, the road with an electric cable underneath the asphalt). The car has had 3 versions. The version 3 was equipped with the first autopilot system, known today as a cruise control. Although, the system could maintain a constant speed on the road without the driver’s assistance, it was still a long way till fully self-driving cars. But a very promising start.

How does a self-driving car work?

Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

I am not a writer with a tech background. So, here I would not explain to you how exactly does it work. But I’d like to cover the main concept.

Self driving cars operate by a variety of sensors that allow them to analyse their surrounding. The sensors are: radar, lidar, sonar, GPS, odometry and inertial measurement units. On the basis of the data received from these sensors, the car chooses the best navigation routes, according to potential obstacles and relevant road signs.

A self-driving car is not just another innovation of the current century. It’s the beginning of a transportation revolution. The last one happened 100 years ago when the horse carriages have been replaced by cars. Now, it is hard to imagine how people have been travelling with horses. Most probably, we will see a similar shift in the society’s mind already a decade after self-driving cars will enter the mass production stage.

What do you think? How society could be impacted by self-driving cars?

Leave you thoughts in the comment section and let’s discuss it!

A Copywriter at HPE💚 #AIforGood #TechForGood

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store