How would self driving cars work?

Self driving cars operate on robotic technology that takes them from one destination to another without a driver. These cars are normally tested under laboratory conditions to sense distances from obstacles and navigate around them. However, in the real world, they must navigate unfamiliar roads and be programmed to sets the best route for itself.

The car sets its own route map via 3D imaging through rooftop light detection ranging technology. Sensors placed strategically around the car monitor the sideways, rear and forward obstacles and alternative routes. It is likely that self-driving cars and buses will be a reality of our lives in the next few years. At the moment, companies like Tesla, Audi and BMW are testing self-driving cars on actual roads in the US. Do read more about the potential threats and opportunities of self-driving vehicles here.

Self-Driving Cars Explained

Self-driving vehicles are cars or trucks in which human drivers are never required to take control to safely operate the vehicle. Also known as autonomous or "driverless" cars, they combine sensors and software to control, navigate, and drive the vehicle.

How they work

Various self-driving technologies have been developed by Google, Uber, Tesla, Nissan, and other major automakers, researchers, and technology companies.

While design details vary, most self-driving systems create and maintain an internal map of their surroundings, based on a wide array of sensors, like radar. Uber's self-driving prototypes use sixty-four laser beams, along with other sensors, to construct their internal map; Google's prototypes have, at various stages, used lasers, radar, high-powered cameras, and sonar.

Software then processes those inputs, plots a path, and sends instructions to the vehicle's "actuators," which control acceleration, braking, and steering. Hard-coded rules, obstacle avoidance algorithms, predictive modeling, and "smart" object discrimination (ie, knowing the difference between a bicycle and a motorcycle) help the software follow traffic rules and navigate obstacles.

Partially-autonomous vehicles may require a human driver to intervene if the system encounters uncertainty; fully-autonomous vehicles may not even offer a steering wheel.

Self-driving cars can be further distinguished as being "connected" or not, indicating whether they can communicate with other vehicles and/or infrastructure, such as next generation traffic lights. Most prototypes do not currently have this capability.

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