Autonomous Cars Are Not Just Science Fiction Stories Anymore!

Armed with extraordinary self-driving capabilities that are powered by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, autonomous cars have come a long way from just being the part of science fiction movies. The concept of manufacturing self-driving vehicles has waged a fierce battle among the best and biggest automakers across the planet. Whether you talk about tech behemoths like Google, Tesla, and IBM or the highly prestigious automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, General Motors, Nissan, Audi, and Volvo, etc., they are all craving to carve out their unique identity in the driverless car ecosystem.

Besides, globally recognized tech firms like Apple and Intel are also desiderating to make their mark in this direction.

Here’s a Brief History of Self-Driving Cars

The idea of developing self-driving cars emerged way back in 1920 when Houdina Radio Control, a radio equipment firm, manifested a radio-controlled vehicle in the streets of New York City.

The car had managed to travel under high-traffic areas of Broadway, and Fifth Avenue; however, its controls were with a car that followed it. Incorporating a transmitting antenna; this vehicle wasn’t fully autonomous as it required a second car to control it. In 1930s further experiments took place in this direction. In 1939, Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama exhibit at the World’s Fair surprised the spectators by showing them the potential replica of the world 20 years from then. Funded by General Motors, Norman Bel Geddes’s self-drive car was an electric vehicle.

In 1950s RCA Labs did some marvelous work in this direction. They built a tiny car in 9153 and used wires, which they placed on a laboratory floor in a particular way, to operate it. And in 1957, RCL Labs joined hands with the State of Nebraska to display a full-size system publicly. They did this demonstration on a public highway.

General Motors, also displayed the Firebirds, cars powered by an electronic guide system, during this period. Designed for an experimental purpose; these cars could run on an automatic highway. Several experiments were conducted during the 1960s, 1970s,1980s, and 1990s to develop driverless cars, and some of them were truly promising.

In the 2000s, the race for developing autonomous cars gained further momentum, when the US Government began to back the military projects to manifest the potential of Unmanned Ground vehicles in navigating difficult terrains.

In the current times, every prominent automaker is testing autonomous car systems to prove that they are ahead of the curve, and firm that’s making constant headlines in this area is none other than Google.

Technology Behind Driverless Cars

Autonomous cars consist of a self-driving system that allows them to sense their environment and navigate swiftly without human intervention. These cars employ a myriad of techniques such as artificial intelligence, GPS, radar, sensors, and high-end cameras, etc., to travel from one place to another.

Levels of Automation

To gain the status of a fully autonomous vehicle; a car must have the potential to drive, reverse, and park itself without any human interference. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are six levels of automation.

Level 1 Automation

Cars that qualify for “Level 1” come with an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) that assist the human driver in operating the vehicle. Vehicles that fit this level consist of features such as a vibrating seat warning and rearview cameras, which help drivers to stay in their lane. ADAS can apply brakes, and control the steering. But it can’t do both the jobs together. It means a human has to operate the car and ADAS assists them.

Level 2 Automation

Vehicles that qualify for “level 2” feature a more high-tech ADAS that can help drivers with steering and braking together. It can also help accelerate the car, but the driver has to stay behind the wheels.

Level 3 Automation

The vehicles that fall under this category feature an automated driving system or ADS with superior driving capabilities. However, even though ADS can control most of the functions of the vehicle under specific circumstances, human drivers are still needed to stay behind the wheel.

Level 4 Automation

Vehicles that qualify for this category consists of an ADS that operates a car entirely under particular circumstances, apart from observing the driving environment. When ADS takes control of the vehicle, human drivers can relax fully.

Level 5 Automation

Vehicles that fall under this level comprise of an ADS that can drive them thoroughly in all the circumstances. These vehicles do not require any human intervention.

Technical Challenges That Automakers Are Facing

  • Developing maps for autonomous cars is utterly challenging.
  • It’s tough to produce robots that can interact with other vehicles & people driving them.
  • It’s hard to manufacture sensors that can work in all weather conditions.
  • There is still no definition of how safe are driverless cars.
  • Self-driving cars are vulnerable to hacking.

Takeaway

Tech firms are trying to change the face of the world by introducing new technologies to simplify human life. They are investing more money, developing advanced infrastructure, and hiring competent professionals with each passing day to fuel their R&D projects. Although people are a little scared to rely on driverless cars yet, it doesn’t change the fact that they are a reality now, and will soon hit the mainstream. So, if you are dreaming of owning such a vehicle, we are hopeful that your dreams will transform into a reality in the coming years.

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