Self-driving cars, autonomous cars, driverless cars are something we used to watch in sci-fi Hollywood films and wished for. Since 2018 these self-driving vehicles have stepped into the world of reality.

Autonomous Cars | Self-Driving Cars | Explained
Autonomous Cars | Self-Driving Cars | A Reality?

Brands like BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Tesla have already tested their driverless vehicles on the roads. Autonomous vehicles are a gift of advanced technologies targeting safe and efficient driving. Though their acceptance is not yet widespread, the day is not far. Most of the major automotive manufacturers are vigorously exploring the autonomous-vehicle programs and conducting extensive on-road testing.

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What is a self-driving or driverless car?

Self-driving cars are those that do not require human drivers to take control of the vehicle to operate it. These vehicles are also known as autonomous or driverless cars. They are equipped with sensors and software to control, drive and navigate the vehicle.

Presently, there are no fully-autonomous vehicles that are operating on the roads. However, in some advanced countries, you will come across partial-autonomous vehicles that require varying amounts of self-automation compared to conventional vehicles. The technology of self-driven cars is becoming increasingly common which could fundamentally transform the transportation system.

What is the difference between a self-driving and autonomous car?

Self Driving Car | Autonomous Car | Driverless Car
Waymo Self Driving Car

Self-driving and autonomous cars are terms frequently used instead of each other. Practically, they mean the same, and there is a very slight difference in their meaning.
The former refers to the inclusive term used by Autotrader to cover the entire idea of cars that perform on their own in moving from one point to point. All driverless cars can be self-driven but all self-driving cars are not driverless.

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The truth is there is nothing such as an autonomous car, as the word “autonomy” means decision-making. But in the case of a driverless car, it can perform a lot of other activities apart from decision-making. Hence, the term “autonomous car” turns out to be inappropriate.

How does a self-driving car work?

A self-driving car is one that is able to drive on its own by sensing the environment and navigating without any human aid. To ensure that the vehicles can run on their own they are usually equipped with an inertial navigation system, a GPS unit and a series of sensors that include radar, laser rangefinders and video. The vehicle uses positional statistics from the GPS and inertial navigation system to focus and sense data to upgrade its position, estimate and shape up a 3D-image of its environment.

Self-Driving Cars | Explained

Most of the self-driving car control systems are capable of making smart decisions by:

  • Conserving an internal map of its own world.
  • Using this map to find the best path to reach its destination avoiding obstacles like road structures, pedestrians and other vehicles.
  • Once the vehicle defines the best path to take, this decision is split into several commands, which are then fed to the vehicle’s actuators. These actuators take control of the vehicle’s steering, throttle and brake. The entire process of mapping, obstacle avoidance, localization and path planning is constantly repeated by powerful onboard processors until the car reaches its destination.
  • Different car manufacturers use different sensors and algorithms, depending on their budget and operational constraints but the process is similar.

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What are the different levels of self-driving cars?

Different cars adapt different levels of self-driven vehicles that are described by researchers on a scale of 0 to 5.

  • Level 0

    All major systems to be controlled by humans.

  • Level 1

    Certain systems, like automatic braking or cruise control, is controlled by the vehicle but, one at a time.

  • Level 2

    The car offers at the most two simultaneous automated functions like steering and acceleration but requires human control for safe operation.

  • Level 3

    The car is equipped to manage all critical safety functions under certain conditions, but the driver should be present to take over when alerted.

  • Level 4

    The car is driverless in some scenarios, but not always.

  • Level 5

    The car is fully capable of self-driving independently in every situation.

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Are autonomous cars safe?

Self Driving Cars Safety
Self Driving Cars Safety

In the entire world, around 1.2 million people each year are killed due to car accidents, thus making road incidents a leading cause of death. So, it is assumed that with the introduction of auto-drive cars on the road, it will be a lot safer. Researchers have established that in the long run, deploying these cars would be 10% safer than the average human-driven cars. Autonomous cars eradicate the possibility of drunken driving, the driver getting drowsy which can lead to a lot of accidents.

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In the near future, with the evolution of artificial intelligence, autonomous cars would be even capable of predicting the behavioural patterns of pedestrians and adjust themselves accordingly. Hence, it can be concluded that removing the element of human error margin would undoubtedly decline the number of accidents and make the roads a lot safer.

What are the advantages of an autonomous car?

  • Lesser traffic
    Since driverless cars constantly communicate with each other they are able to identify the best route which helps in spreading the traffic.
  • Improved transportation service
    in future, driverless cars would shift to car-sharing service making it more affordable.
  • A lot safer
    The cars that can self-drive are able to eliminate 90% of the chances of road accidents in the US alone. This would save thousands of lives.
  • Reduced emission
    Ever since 1990 to 2007 the global emission of CO2 has risen by 45%. The introduction of these electric cars can check this emission of greenhouse gases by 87 to 94% per mile by the year 2030.
  • Increase of free time
    While riding in fully autonomous cars all you need to do is, sit back and relax and let the car do its job. You can utilize this time in reading books, playing video games or have a casual conversation over the phone.
  • Enjoy better health
    Facing lesser traffic can improve your overall health. Studies show traffic jams are the cause of high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. This leads to decreased cardiovascular fitness and affects the quality of sleep.
  • Increased technical job opportunities
    It is true, autonomous cars will snatch jobs in few areas. But on the other side, it will create new job opportunities for software developers, machine experts and wireless network engineers.

What are the disadvantages of self-driving cars?

Self-Driving Cars Disadvantages
Tesla Self Driving Car Crash
  • A self-driving car would be a lot unaffordable for most people, with an average cost of over $100,000.
  • Any kind of system malfunction or even a minor glitch could lead to a far worse accident than that caused by any human error.
  • Since driverless cars are programmed to obey each and every rules and regulation, it can lead to much slower traffic. These vehicles usually behave like learner drivers who are initially slow, timid and conservative. When the road is shared with human drivers, it can be really annoying to navigate for these human drivers.
  • Maintenance of the cars would be overlooked. Some governmental rules would have to be established to make ensure every driverless vehicle is mechanically sound and up-to-date.
  • It has been noticed that autonomous cars have difficulty operating in some specific weather conditions. Like in the case of heavy rain it can interfere with its roof-mounted laser sensors and snow can interfere with the cameras.
  • Since these vehicles work based on GPS and other technologies, these might not register certain obstacles like potholes, recent alterations in the road conditions and newly posted signboards.
  • There would be a major up-gradations required for the road and infrastructure to make these driverless vehicles fully operational.
  • Since these vehicles are entirely based on technology, it would be really easy for the hackers to take control of the vehicle’s software, which will affect its operation leading to a major safety concern.
  • Most drives of the regular cabs or Uber, truck drivers and other delivery boys of fast food and e-commerce will eventually lose their jobs as these autonomous cars take over.

What is the future of self-driving cars in India?

Self-Driving Cars in India
Tata Nano Self-Driving Cars in India

When it comes to autonomous cars, Indian roads are still a challenge compared to the roads in western countries. But then again, we can see that the demand for these driverless cars is highest in India. Also, there is huge potential for these vehicles to succeed in the Indian market. Presently, Indian roads are highly congested and thus not fit for autonomous cars.

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With the rising development of technology, that day is not far, when driverless cars will run in India. Today, in India Ola is one of the players, that is experimenting with some parts of the autonomous car technology. There are several startups that have also invested heavily in this technology. Some of the projects that have come up in India are Netradyne, Flux Auto and Fisheyebox. Though the transition is very slow, it is gradually making its way.

Infosys, one of the giant tech players has already set in full-force in Bengaluru to initiate this drive. This transition will make a huge impact in the technical as well as the automobile industry. In order to run these driverless cars in India in the future, the government should also take care of the infrastructural changes required and make it a success.

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