The automotive industry is developing very actively. If earlier self-driving vehicles seemed like a fantastic future, today they are our new reality. The Indy Auto Man used car dealer professionals explain how things are with self-driving cars on the US roads and whether it is time to put the driving license on a shelf.
How self-driving cars work
Intelligent software controls driverless vehicles. The general principle of operation is the same:
- Cameras detect various objects.
- The radar tracks obstacles and determines the distance to them.
- The lidar rotates 360 degrees, determining the distance to obstacles. It can recognize objects near the car.
- Artificial intelligence processes information received from sensors and cameras and controls the vehicle.
The process of moving cars on autopilot consists of the continuous execution of many tasks in real-time:
- Localization. The drone determines the location of various objects: traffic lights, pedestrians, road markings, and road signs.
- Perception. The car identifies surroundings and determines the speed and movement direction of objects.
- Prediction. The drone predicts the movement of other vehicles and people. This moment is the most difficult.
- Planning. Based on previous tasks, the drone algorithms determine further actions and issue commands to control systems.
These technologies are widely used in safety systems installed on modern cars. For a list of the safest SUVs, visit indyautoman.com.
Standards and levels of autonomy for self-driving cars
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are standardized by several organizations, for example, IEEE. The main purpose of these systems is to assist the driver.
The manufacturer sets the autonomy degree, and all cars are already included in the system. Most organizations define five degrees of autonomy for self-driving cars. They show how much a particular system is ready to transfer control of the machine into the hands of the computer.
- Level 0. The driver needs to control everything: gas and brake, steering wheel. This level contains most of the cars that drive on the roads;
- Level 1. The car helps the driver to accelerate and brake; such cars have adaptive cruise control, parking assistance, and a lane departure warning system. Most modern vehicles have these technologies.
- Level 2. The car independently controls the gas and brake, but a person must always monitor the situation to switch to manual control at any time. The automation of this level includes driver steering assistance, systems for controlling vehicle speed, and lane keeping. The Tesla Model S, X, and 3 are perfect examples of second-level self-driving cars.
- Level 3. The car can independently control the movement, but at some point, it may ask the driver to take control. If behind the wheel of a second-level car, the driver monitors the road and determines when it is necessary to switch to manual control, then at level three, the driver is in reserve. Audi was supposed to release the A8 model with the Traffic Jam Pilot function. But the company had to delay the launch due to legal regulation complexity in the US. The future of third-level self-driving is still vague and subject to technical, behavioral, regulatory, legal, and other related challenges.
- Level 4. The car can do everything at the third level, but at the same time, it can also resolve difficult traffic situations. The driver may not hold the steering wheel. If the car cannot decide on its own, it will give a signal about this and stop on the side of the road. Honda has announced the development of a Level 4 vehicle by 2026. Uber, Google, and Lyft have also been working on self-driving technology, but in practice, their vehicles are between the second and third levels. The only exception is Google subsidiary Waymo. They launched a self-driving taxi of the fourth autonomy level in Chandler, Arizona. These cars do not require a driver, but the weather conditions should be almost ideal.
- Level 5 This is a full-fledged automation of the car, in which the car drives without a human. It makes the decision, and there is no steering wheel. Five-level vehicles already exist, but they carry goods. The American company Nuro is testing vehicles that deliver groceries to customers. They drive at low speed autonomously. But nobody knows when the fifth-level self-driving passenger cars will see the light of day.
Pros and Cons of Autonomous vehicles
Self-driving cars seem very attractive, but there are still many questions and concerns. Here are the main pros and cons most experts agree on.
- The possibility of transporting goods in high-risk areas during man-made and natural disasters;
- Time-saving. The driver will be able to relax on the road and do more important things;
- Transportation price reduction due to savings on the salaries of drivers;
- Economical fuel consumption;
- The possibility of independent movement by car for people with reduced vision;
- Minimization of accidents due to human factors;
- More efficient traffic flow management on the roads.
- Inability to independently drive a vehicle;
- Liability for damage;
- Lack of human experience in an unforeseen situation;
- Risk of software failure;
- Job cuts for drivers;
- Loss of privacy;
- Ethical question about the number of victims that confronts the computer in the event of an unavoidable collision.
Driverless transport is just developing. Before self-driving cars reach a wide range of consumers, they will have to go through many improvements and numerous tests. In the meantime, US motorists can enjoy manual control.