What is an Autonomous Car?
An autonomous car is capable of dropping you at your destination without your efforts. It is a vehicle that can sense all the possible condition and make a decision to move forward, backwards or take a u-turn. An autonomous car is capable of sensing the environment around it and do not require any human intervention. There is no need for a human being to sit inside the car and take the decisions to move the car neither it needs any passenger. Like any traditional car, an autonomous car can go anywhere and perform all the activities that a traditional car can perform.
Without any human being, an autonomous car can drive itself in the same way as the driver drives the car.
There are 6 levels of driving automation ranging from level 0 ( Manual ) to level 5 ( Fully Autonomous ) as described by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
Why automated not autonomous
The SAE always uses the word automated not autonomous. The reason is that a fully autonomous car is capable of making all the decisions. A fully autonomous car is self-aware and can make its own choice when to start and where to go. Imagine if you want to go to your home and instead of driving you home the car drives you to a beach. This is among one of the reasons why it is automated not autonomous.
What is self-driving
The terms self-driving cars is used interchangeably with autonomous cars. Although it is different as per SAE most of us use these term interchangeably. If you call it a self-driving car then it means that the car has its own choices and it can make decisions and can go wherever the car wants to go without the permission of the owner.
How autonomous car works
All of this is possible because of a lot of sensors and digital intelligence that is AI (Artificial Intelligence ). The base of an autonomous car is AI and if we go more specific then it is ML ( Machine Learning ) through which it analyzes all the data from different types of sensors and makes use of some complex algorithm to take the decision. An autonomous car uses a powerful processor to execute the program that is needed to analyze all the data. An autonomous car makes use of different sensors that will perform different work. Like the Radar sensors keep checking the position of the vehicles around it. Video cameras are used to detect the traffic lights and read all the signals that are there while driving. It takes care of all the important information that a driver takes care while driving or even more than that. There are multiple sensors that are placed at different parts of an autonomous car and these sensors help in maintaining a map of their surrounding. There is also a sensor known as LIDAR ( Light detection and ranging ) sensor that helps to measure the distance by bouncing pulses of light from the surrounding of a vehicle.
Ultrasonic sensors are placed near wheels and it helps to detect the curbs and other vehicles during parking the car.
Challenges With Autonomous Cars
Though we have all the necessary sensors and Softwares still these cars in testing mode at different parts of the earth. And these cars are not available to the general public
LIDAR and radar problem
Using Lidar sensors are expensive and also are not able to make a balance between the range and the resolution. And also if there are multiple autonomous cars then there will be interference with one another. And also if we use radio frequency then it will not fulfil the need for such a massive population.
Wheather is also a big problem for these types of cars. What if there is a heavy snowfall which covers the lane divider how will an autonomous car identifies the lane. And how will the sensors sense the lane marking if it obscured by water or some chemical?
Traffic condition and laws for an autonomous car
There are hundreds of questions regarding the laws for an autonomous car. But no one can define it until a fully autonomous car is developed and ready to be on the road. Some questions are always there like how will they perform in tunnels or on the bridge, How will it perform in bumper to bumper traffic. These are some of the questions that can’t be answered until we have a fully functional autonomous or automated car. So wait until these types of cars are available to the general public.
Who is liable for the accident?
Since autonomous cars are just machines with some sensors and digital intelligence it may be possible that a sensor fails due to which it delivers wrong information to the processor and the car met with an accident. Then in that case who is liable because it is a machine. So no one can be blamed neither The manufacturer nor the human passenger.
Artificial vs. Human Intelligence
A traditional car with a driver and an autonomous car, there is a lot of difference when it comes to judging the real-time situation. You can assume that a pedestrian who is in a hurry and trying to cross the road without signal a human driver can easily understand through the facial expressions and body language but will an autonomous car is able to judge it with the help of the facial expression and the body language of the pedestrian.
Benefits or Applications of an autonomous car
Reduction in traffic
As per the experts if we start using autonomous cars then there is approx 30 to 40% fewer vehicles on the road.
Reduction in CO2 Emissions
If autonomous cars replace the traditional cars that run on petrol or diesel then there would be around 80% reduction in co2 emission.
Helps physically challenged person
Autonomous cars would really help physically challenged people who can’t drive because of disability. They can go wherever they want to go by just sitting in a passenger seat.
Autonomous cars can automatically find the parking and park itself at the proper place so that no one will feel any kind of discomfort.
and there are a lot of other benefits like reducing transportation costs, Improve walkability and livability and much more.
These featured is launched in 2015, It includes tesla autopilot capability after this there is one more update by tesla which is known by the name of over-the-air that includes self-parking feature at parking locations without the driver. But it was only suitable for some highways not for other areas also it cannot detect pedestrians, so what is the benefit of having this. And on 20 January 2016, it met with an accident in China’s Hubel province. And according to the Chinese news channel, this was the first death caused by tesla automatic driving system. You can check more about it here ( Wikipedia ). Also, there are some other projects by google Waymo and Uber you can check all that here ( Wikipedia )