All About Self-Driving Cars

With self-driving cars as the focus of car manufacturers, the future holds increased road safety, real estate space, and easier car purchasing.
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Fully autonomous cars are within the foreseeable future as car companies have already developed and implemented various technologies that are precursors to a true Level 5 self-driving car. This article will highlight three important things you should know about self-driving cars: Part 1 talks about how self-driving cars work, Part 2 provides five examples of cars with self-driving technologies, and Part 3 addresses the implications that these vehicles will have on the future.

Part 1 of 3: How do self-driving cars work?

With the ability to navigate without the input of a human operator, self-driving cars use a variety of technologies to sense the surrounding environment. Some of the technology used in self-driving cars includes robust GPS navigation systems, laser rangefinders, and radar. The following details how all of this technology works together to navigate the roadways quickly and accurately:
  • Mapping and localization: A self-driving vehicle uses a variety of sensors, including laser rangefinders, radar, and other sensors, in conjunction with GPS and inertial navigation units to locate itself on internalized maps.
The use of maps developed in real time allow the car to keep navigating even when encountering signal delays with its GPS and errors with the vehicle’s inertial navigation units.
  • Obstacle avoidance: A self-driving vehicle also uses its internal maps to avoid both static and moving objects in the form of buildings, other objects, and cars and people in the vicinity.
The self-driving car also uses a probabilistic model to help it determine the identity of many of the objects it can expect to encounter, including the difference between such objects as a motorcycle and a bicycle.
This in turn allows the self-driving car to make more intelligent decisions while driving on the road and helps the vehicle plan an accurate and safe path while driving.
  • Path planning: Path planning comes into play using information from the self-driving car’s sensors and the probabilistic model to safely navigate the various objects in its path and plot a course to its destination while also following the rules of the road.
In addition, drivers can expect each vehicle manufacturer to develop its own path-planning algorithm. These algorithms use all of the available vehicle technologies to repeatedly develop a safe path to the destination.

Part 2 of 3: Five cars that use self-driving technology today

A select few car makes and models use self-driving technology to navigate our nation’s roadways. It’s through the innovations that these cars bring about that will lead to the true self-driving cars of tomorrow. Five of the cars you can drive today that use some form of self-driving technology include:
  • Tesla Model S P90D: The Tesla Model S P90D and P85D cars incorporate technology that allow them to steer, change lanes, and adjust speed at the simple push of a button.
Both of these all-electric cars use cameras, radar, and other sensors to navigate and even park unaided.
  • Volvo XC90 T8 Hybrid: With the XC90 T8 Hybrid, Volvo has moved one step closer to placing self-driving technology on the road. Both the T6 and T8 hybrid models come equipped with an IntelliSafe Autopilot mode to help them navigate while driving.
  • Faraday Future FFZERO1 EV: The all-electric Faraday Future combines a super fast driving experience with an almost fully autonomous driving system. With more than 1,000 horsepower, the Faraday Future represents the future of self-driving technology.
  • BMW 750i xDrive: While the technology of the BMW 750i xDrive represents more of a driving-aid system, the car does utilize some of what many consider precursors to true self-driving capabilities.
The car uses technologies such as lane departure warning, an automatic braking system, and Active Cruise Control to help drivers navigate safely to their destination.
  • Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG Coupe: Similar to the BMW 7 Series, the Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG Coupe uses cameras and radar to stay within its lane of traffic while driving. And while a driver must still actually drive the vehicle, the car does have the capability of sensing oncoming traffic from a great distance.

Part 3 of 3: What does the future look like with self-driving cars?

At the current rate, self-driving cars should hit the streets in the not-so-distant future, with many prototypes already in use in road tests. So, where does the future of self-driving cars lead? Some areas that could be impacted by self-driving technology include:
  • Reduced roadway accidents: Accidents on roadways represents one of the main areas of impact. With self-driving cars providing a safer alternative to human-controlled cars, many experts estimate that self-driving cars could cut human fatalities from accidents by over 50%, or over 650,000 lives saved on an annual basis around the world, according to a 2016 CNBC article.
  • Increased real estate space: The introduction of self-driving cars will probably lead to a revolution in how society owns and utilizes cars.
Experts expect a 20% shift from vehicle ownership to more mainstream uses self-driving cars through such services as Uber and others, according to CNBC.com. This in turn should free up garage space for use as living space.
  • Car purchasing: Finally, experts say self-driving cars should change how you buy and finance a car. Instead of selling or leasing you a car, expect car manufacturers to offer a fleet of self-driving cars as part of a subscription model. In essence, when you need a car, you would order the type you needed and it would come to you.
With the reality of self-driving cars seemingly right around the corner, it is important to know about the quickly developing industry. Autonomous cars will have many implications on how people in the future interact with cars.

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