The idea of a self-driving car still seems like something out of science fiction or from rides at theme parks, yet in the last decade, the notion of them has transformed from a hopeful matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.
Electric cars are now commonplace, slowly replacing the standard method of fuelling up a car at a petrol station with charging stations. The car industry is going through whole heaps of change and self-driving, AI-rich models are going to see great leaps forward next.
Even though we know of self-driving cars, there’s not a lot of information into what it is exactly.
Below, we have a quick guide to some aspects of what constitutes a ‘self-driving car’, and what it could mean for you.
What is a Self-Driving Car?
A car that drives itself is the somewhat self-explanatory main crux of the idea. There are many cameras and sensors covering a vehicle, with advanced AI and algorithms calculating how to judge nearby vehicles or pedestrians on the road and pavement, while abiding by the speed limit.
The self-driving cars currently being tested commonly have the following technologies installed to ensure that they can drive as accurately and safely as possible:
? Radar Cameras
? High-Resolution Cameras
? Domain Controller
? LiDAR (Light Detection and Range)
There may only be five elements here, but there are many variants of these spread across the vehicle. This is so that the on-board computer can streamline to not only improve safety, but to select the best routes, fastest roads and remain at peak performance.
It’s definitely reminiscent of the TV Show Knight Rider, which might have seemed fantastical in the past, but here in 2020, we aren’t far from this being a reality.
The following are levels of a driverless car to signal just how much self-awareness the computer has. It’s predicted that these levels will be what a customer chooses when they come to buy a self-driving car in the future.
Level 0 - Human Driving - You have complete control of the car.
Level 1 - Hands On - Sharing control of the vehicle is spread between you and the computer.
Level 2 - Hands Off - The computer takes control of steering, acceleration and braking.
Level 3 - Eyes Off - The computer will be aware of all of its surroundings.
Level 4 - Mind Off - No human is needed for attention for safety or awareness.
Level 5 - Complete Automation - Computer has complete control of the car.
There are simply too many benefits to list as the improvements are enormous and ever-growing. From not needing a driving test yourself, to being able to get out of the car while it parks itself as you make that urgent meeting, the advantages pile up the more you look into it.
To better illustrate this, here’s a scenario to help give you an idea of what it could mean if your job needs you to be on the road.
8am - You’re awoken by the alarm on your smartwatch, and as you get out of bed, your phone reads out the weather for the coming day, alongside your appointments. By 8.30am, you’re ready to leave the house, and the car has already opened the garage door, and is parked just outside the door, with the car door opening as you approach it.
The dashboard shows your upcoming appointment with estimated arrival time and weather predictions.
9am - There’s traffic, but the self-driving line is still making headway. However, you notice that you’re going to be late for the 9:15am meeting. You quickly command the car to find a parking space that’s near to the meeting, and you leave, just making the meeting on foot.
11am - The meeting concludes, and you receive a push-notification that the car has paid the car park fee and is now on its way to pick you up. After ten minutes, you and a colleague go into the car and debrief following the meeting, going through notes and watching a video.
Throughout this, the car is on its way to a set destination. Once the meeting finishes, they are dropped off at their workplace, and you decide you want a burger for lunch.
1pm - After ordering at a drive-thru, you have lunch and there is now a destination that will take 3 hours to drive to. You decide, with the time allowing, to take part in a Zoom meeting in the back of the car, while working on some reports to a deadline.
4pm - It’s the last meeting of the day, and you hold it in a coffee shop while the car recharges and updates itself on the upcoming traffic and weather conditions. You find that the next meeting is cancelled. Instead you go back into the car, and you command it to go home, while you catch up on iPlayer or listen to music via Spotify to let off some steam.
6pm - You arrive home and the car brings you to the door and drives itself to the garage, docking itself to the charging system. It changes into standby mode, ready for the next journey.
That’s just one example of what a day could be for a driverless car; it revolves around your life and any sudden changes.
There are cars from manufacturers such as Tesla that already have their cars available to buy, with software updates in progress to make that ‘Level 5’ a reality. With government proposals wanting to allow self-driving cars by next year with a possible limit of 70mph, it really is only a matter of time before we see these in an exclusive lane on the motorway.