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Self-Driving Car Technology

Self-driving cars will soon be taking to the roads. And people are not fully aware of the benefits and dangers these robots pose to the other commuters. The question of whether this technology will have a massive impact on the way we commute remains to be seen.

When the first cars took to the roads, there was apprehension on how this will affect the act of getting from Point A to Point B. By granting the required freedom to drivers, travel was eased to a large extent. Unforeseen harm was also witnessed through accidents, road rage, and climate change. As the technology of autonomous vehicles (AVs) stands at a point where it is likely to change the way we travel, the danger of the same mistakes being repeated looms large.

Autonomous Cars From Google:

Self-Driving Car

The cars we see today already have semi-autonomous functionality such as self-braking systems and assisted parking features. The fully autonomous vehicles, i.e., the ones that will operate without any human intervention, will soon be a reality as well. Three technology solutions have been introduced till date:

  • Camera over radar - This system relies on the camera systems attached to the vehicle and the information captured by the camera is supplemented by the data collected by radars.
  • Radar over camera - This technology utilises the information from radar sensors. The camera data is used to supplement the information collected through radars.
  • Hybrid system - The hybrid technology uses a combination of light detection and ranging (lidar), camera systems, radar, and sensor-fusion algorithms to analyse the environment in a more detailed manner. This is probably the most expensive technology among the systems that are available today.

The version of an autonomous car introduced by Google has captured the headlines of newspapers recently. The car will work on a ‘Google Chauffeur’ software that will be in the market by 2020.

Cars working on autonomous technology use proximity sensors that assist in parking. These sensors, when combined with automated steering technology and cruise control, will offer you the skeleton of Google’s self-driving car.

  • Google’s autonomous car has eight sensors, the most prominent one being the LiDAR, which is essentially a rotating roof-top camera that makes use of an array of 32 or 64 lasers. These measure the distance between the vehicle and other objects, building a 3D map within a distance of 200m. This is how the car detects hazards and predicts possible collisions.
  • The vehicle also has a standard camera that points out from the windscreen. This camera detects hazards such as other motorists, pedestrians, and stationary objects. The highlight of this camera is the fact that it reads road signs and “understands” the signals from traffic lights.
  • There is a radar that is mounted on the bumper of the vehicle that is used for intelligent cruise control. This radar detects vehicles in front of and behind the autonomous car.
  • The car has an aerial mounted at the rear that receives geolocation details from GPS satellites. One of the rear wheels also has an ultrasonic sensor that keeps track of the movements of the vehicle.
  • Other key features of the self-driving car from Google include the gyroscopes, altimeters, and tachometer situated inside the vehicle. These devices provide more accurate measurements of the vehicle’s position that help in effortlessly operating the car.

How The Google Driverless Car Works:

It is a given that GPS data alone is not sufficient to help a self-driving car traverse the roads accurately. The Google driverless car makes use of data from all its eight sensors. This information is interpreted by the Google software in the vehicle and assists in commutation. Google’s software also monitors the other drivers on the road and their behaviour patterns. The highway signals are also interpreted accurately.

So, for instance, if there is an autonomous car from Google behind a two-wheeler on the road, the software from Google can accurately understand the intentions of the bike rider if he/she extends an arm. As the rider takes a turn, the car will slow down to provide enough space for the two-wheeler to manoeuvre safely.

How Do Car Manufacturers Test Self-Driving Cars?

Most of the self-driving vehicles that have been introduced are tested on private tracks. Some of these cars have also taken to public roads for evaluation. When Google tests these cars, there will be a qualified driver who can take emergency actions on the vehicle. A Google engineer will also be present at his/her side to assess the behaviour of the software. For testing purposes, a driver will be sent in a conventional car to map the road conditions and the route. The traffic signals and lanes are assessed by the software. This data is then used to assist in autonomous driving through the same path.

Driverless cars have received the nod in some of the states in the US, and Google has been aggressively testing these vehicles on suburban streets and motorways.

The technology of autonomous cars will help in providing transportation for individuals who are unable to drive due to physical impairment or age. This is a very meaningful prospect of the system in its entirety.

Safety Of Autonomous Vehicles:

The matter of safety concerning autonomous cars is highly debatable. Worldwide statistics indicate that non-autonomous cars have been major contributors to gruesome road accidents in the past. Road deaths continue to claim millions of lives around the globe each year, and more than 90% of these disasters are due to human errors.

Based on the tests conducted on self-driving cars, there have been very few instances of accidents when this technology was in use. This is an encouraging fact for the motorists and drivers alike.

However, there are some challenges that the autonomous driving technology will have to overcome before it can become a more viable solution.

  • One of the problems that the technology is likely to create would be the trust that humans have on the new system. This is not the first time such a problem was noticed. When airbags were first introduced, drivers considered that seat belts would not be necessary anymore. This illusion was the cause of multiple deaths at that time.
  • These advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) have exhibited limitations in adaptive cruise control. Effectively, placing too much trust in the system may result in unprecedented events like accidents.
  • The software required to make use of the full potential of self-driving vehicles still needs a lot of sharpening. Complexity and research-oriented issues are some of the problems faced by researchers in this regard.
  • Safety experts are of the opinion that when a vehicle is a semi-autonomous one, the driver could engage in other activities such as talking over the phone or reading. He/she will, hence, lack the situational awareness that is required to take control of the vehicle again. As the driver stays disengaged for longer, the re-engagement process also takes time. So, auto manufacturers should have better human-machine interfaces that will help in savings lives.

Cab aggregators have started using the autonomous technology in their vehicles. However, the recent death of a woman in the US in a horrifying accident involving a self-driving car has garnered a lot of attention. Limiting such fatal crashes is not solely the responsibility of the auto manufacturers, engineers, policymakers, and other experts. To an extent, it also depends on the layout of the towns and the roadways. In a nutshell, the advanced autonomous driving technology is likely to take a longer time, perhaps 5 to 10 years, to be established and well-received by the public.

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