Everyone knows self-driving cars as one of the biggest technology trends of this year. Though still in its infancy stage (Though Waymo, the leader in autonomous car tech, is only at level 4 automation), actual adoption and use of self-driving technology is still growing. This innovation could radically transform our transportation system. Before we start with how the technology works, a brief description of different layers of autonomy is needed.
Layers of autonomy
Different cars are capable of different levels of self-driving, and are often described by researchers on a scale of 0-5.
Level 0: All major systems are controlled by humans
Level 1: Certain systems, such as cruise control or automatic braking, may be controlled by the car, one at a time
Level 2: The car offers at least two simultaneous automated functions, like acceleration and steering, but requires humans for safe operation
Level 3: The car can manage all safety-critical functions under certain conditions, but the driver is expected to take over when alerted
Level 4: The car is fully-autonomous in some driving scenarios, though not all
Level 5: The car is completely capable of self-driving in every situation
How They Work
Various self-driving car technologies have been developed by major automakers and companies such as Google, Uber, Tesla, and Nissan. While design details vary, the majority of cars create and maintain a map of their surroundings, based on sensors such as radar, lasers, or stereoscopic vision.
Software uses the inputs to plot a path and send instructions to the vehicle to accelerate, brake, and steer. Hard coded rules, algorithms, and predictions help the software navigate and follow rules.
These cars may require a human driver to intervene if the software is uncertain of what action to make, but as technology progresses, human intervention will no longer be needed.
Why We Need Self Driving Cars
The costs and benefits of cars are hypothetical, as large scale adoption isn’t common, but there are some major benefits and possible downsides to adoption of autonomous car technology.
Safety is an overarching concern. Thousands of people die in motor vehicle crashes each year, and autonomous cars could offer a solution to decreasing deaths.
Equity is another major consideration. Self driving technology could help people who aren’t able to drive themselves, but it could displace millions of employed drivers (such as bus or truck drivers), causing other issues.
Environmental Impact is an often overlooked concern. Due to the large scale adoption of accessible, affordable, and convenient self-driving cars, the number of miles driven each year could skyrocket. However, a proposed use of shared rides (such as Uber’s plans), or electric cars (Tesla), could help solve this problem.
How to get into the Technical Side of Self Driving Technology
Companies are on the prowl for job applicants in self driving or autonomous technology, and many universities are establishing programs that focus on the subject. Courses such as this one will get you up to speed on some of the technical components of developing autonomous technology, while there’s a series of lectures such as this one that can help you.