1) Introduction to Self-driving cars
1.1) What are Self-Driving Cars?
Self-Driving cars or Autonomous Cars refer to the unmanned ground vehicles capable of navigating without a human input by sensing its environment. Using a variety of techniques such as GPS, laser technology, radar and different types of sensors, robotic cars can easily detect their surroundings. On top of that, autonomous cars have control systems that are capable of analyzing sensory data in order to distinguish between obstacles, vehicles and relevant signage.
1.2) Examples of Self-driving Cars
- TESLA: Tesla’s Model S cars can automatically steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed to traffic conditions and Parallel Park at the push of a button.
- VOLVO: The 2016 Volvo XC90 models are equipped with an Intellisafe Autopilot mode similar to the technology found in the Tesla Model S. this model of cars is one of the safest cars on the market.
- BMW: the BMW 750i xDrive’s may not be a fully autonomous system; however, it has a driving-aid system and has features for self-driving. It has an automatic braking system to prevent front-end collisions and a pedestrian alert for smart city cruising.
- Mercedes Benz: With its camera mounted right into the Mercedes-Benz emblem on the grill this luxurious car has the ability and features similar to the BMW allowing it to self-drive. This Benz is also great at sensing oncoming traffic both nearby and from a significant distance with the aid of a camera in the windshield and different sensors and radars pointed in different directions.
- GOOGLE: Google just announced in 2012 that they made a self-driving car and it is working perfectly fine.
2) How do Self-Driving Cars work?
Self-driving cars have five main components, these components are:
2.1) Computer Vision
Computer vision is a scientific field that involves the way computers analyze digital images and videos. For a self-driving car, camera images are used to find lane lines, track other vehicles on the road and avoid obstacles, and recognize street signs.
2.2) Sensor Fusion
Sensor Fusion is a method that deals with the integration of data from different sensors, so in an automotive car, data from cameras, radars, and other sensors are gathered and analyzed in order to build a comprehensive understanding of the vehicle’s environment.
After the gathering and analyzing of data and information, the next step is to simply localize the automated car’s position in the vehicle’s environment, using a similar technique and technology to the way how a GPS works, however, a way more sophisticated way. Automated cars can localize themselves using complicated mathematical algorithms.
2.4) Path Planning
After knowing where the car is and where other cars are, the next step for the self-driving car is to plan its path, the first step into accomplishing this task is to predict what other cars are going to do, then it decides which maneuver is the best to take in response to those vehicles. Finally, it builds a trajectory in order to safely execute the maneuver.
Control is the final task. After building the path and knowing where the car would go and what it would do, it is finally the time for the car to simply execute the task. This step includes the execution of steering the wheel and hitting the throttle or the brake in order to follow that trajectory.
3) Pros and Cons of Self-Driving Cars
3.1) Benefits of Self-Driving Cars
Using Self-Driving Cars and automated vehicles has a lot of benefits and advantages that can we all benefit from such as:
- Fewer Accidents: the leading cause of car accidents is driving error, alcohol, speeding, driving aggressively… it is estimated that around 40% of car accidents are caused by an abuse of drugs or alcohol. All these factors can be eliminated by automated cars since there will be basically no human driver in the car, there is no reason to worry about, slow reaction time or inexperience.
- The decrease in Traffic Congestion: drivers may sometimes act and behave selfishly, this factor is the leading cause for traffic jams Self-driving cars can be programmed to space out automatically, decreasing if not completely eliminating traffic jams.
- Lower Fuel Consumption: With car-to-car communications systems enabled, as stated before the automated car can predict what the next move of the other car is. If one car needed to brake, all of the other cars would follow it and brake smoothly, if the situation
is cleared, they would all smoothly accelerate at the same speed, thus lowering the consumption of fuel.
3.2) Challenges of Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving car may have lots of benefits of pros however they are not immune from challenges and drawbacks such as:
- Jobless Drivers: many taxi drivers and truck drivers would be jobless if automated cars take over. There would be no need for human drivers.
- The price of the self-driving cars: self-driving car such as Tesla or BMW would cost more than 100,000 USD, most ordinary people cannot afford it thus making them a problem. Not to mention there are other self-driving cars that would cost even more than that.
- The difficulty of understanding human behavior: hand signs and other human behaviors are extremely difficult for a robot or a computer to understand and analyze.
- Problems related to weather: since self-driving cars and automated vehicles are mostly made out of electronic parts, heavy rain may affect them, thus raising even more problems. Not to mention that fog and other elements of nature may affect radars and or cameras, therefore, it makes self-driving cars not as efficient as they were intended to be.
Self-driving cars may not be perfect, and they may contain some errors and faults, however in the near future they are expected to be used more frequently and would be more available, their price would hopefully decrease since competition would rise thus making them more affordable.