A car that does not need a driver to drive is not science fiction, but the nearest future. Major manufacturers are already producing autonomous cars. Find out what they are and how they work.
What is the construction of an autonomous car?
Driverless cars are vehicles that are equipped with a vast array of highly advanced technologies. The cars are constantly being improved to keep up with those driven by humans.
At the heart of their design is an advanced onboard computer. It cooperates with smart sensors and systems that allow complete control over driving. The car “sees” what is happening on the road and then sends the data to the computer. The computer then decides whether to stop, change lanes or give way. The cars also have a ‘black box’ that records driving and stores information on who controlled the vehicle at a given moment – the technology or the driver.
There are 5 levels of vehicle autonomy. These determine the extent to which the cars are independent.
Level 0 – these are cars that inform you of road hazards but do not react to them – this task still belongs to the driver. It is the human driver who controls them and, based on the messages, makes decisions on how to behave on the road
Level 1 – these are cars with driving assistance systems. These can, for example, adjust speed or trajectory. Such systems are fitted to vehicles that are currently on roads. They include adaptive cruise control or the line assist technology (used in modern Skodas) to help keep in the correct lane
Level 2 – these vehicles can partially take over the control of driving. They can increase and decrease speed but also be responsible for steering. Despite this, they still require assistance and additional control from the driver. Systems that can be found in level 2 cars are, for example, traffic jam assist
Level 3 – in this case, the car computer will cope with driving in good road conditions – e.g. on a motorway. The car slows down, brakes, accelerates, turns and avoids obstacles. The driver can then (theoretically) not look at the road
Level 4 – the car has complete control over the driving. It does, though, send messages to the driver about possible hazards. However, if the driver’s reaction is not immediate, nothing wrong will happen – the car will most likely stop at the side of the road
Level 5 – these are the vehicles of the future, which will be fully responsible for driving. The driver will then have only one task – to enter the destination address into the computer. The car will do the rest.
What systems does an autonomous car use?
Every driver knows that driving – whether in the city or on the motorway – is not easy. You have to be alert, make quick decisions and react instantly. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers are aware of that and have developed a range of smart systems. It is the joint work of these systems that enables autonomous cars to drive safely and efficiently.
The capabilities of this device are almost as excellent as those of human eyes. The camera produces a three-dimensional image, which allows it to analyse the traffic situation. Thanks to the use of infrared light, it also works well at night. The device also registers objects even at a very long distance. In the case of autonomous cars, at least several of these cameras are fitted.
Long- and medium-range radar
The medium-range radars have the task of monitoring what is happening behind and to the sides of the vehicle. They also analyse the image present in the mirrors’ blind spot. On the other hand, long-range radars verify the situation in front of the vehicle – they provide information about other cars, motorbikes, and pedestrians. They work by sending out electromagnetic waves.
This radar provides information on whether there is another vehicle in the adjacent lane. It is used, for example, by the intersection assistant system.
Their job is to analyse any obstacles in the vehicle’s immediate vicinity – bollards, kerbs, pedestrians, animals. They usually have a short, up to 5 m range.
This device sends out laser radiation to scan the space three-dimensionally. This makes it possible to verify whether there are other cars or pedestrians on the road.
These are fixed at the rear, front and under the car mirrors. Autonomous cars usually have 6 cameras. They also do their job in darkness.
In an autonomous car, there are safety airbags and belt tensioners. In addition, the vehicle is equipped with blind-spot monitoring and the Adaptive Cruise Control system to warn of unintended lane changes.
Autonomous vehicles communication with the environment
With so many cameras, sensors and radars on board, the car can comprehensively analyse its surroundings.
The automation of vehicles has made the image sent to the onboard computer being three-dimensional – but the capabilities of these cars go far beyond. Cameras observe the space, while sensors and radars analyse it to provide comprehensive information about the traffic situation. Additionally, the computer reacts to what is happening around the vehicle. As a result, the car can brake instantly in an emergency, accelerate if the traffic sign permits or stop when the traffic light shows red.
Autonomous cars – models and price
Fully autonomous vehicles are the near future, but still ahead of us. Nowadays, car manufacturers – with one exception – have stopped at level 2 of autonomy. Nevertheless, these cars impress with their functionality and modernity.
These include models such as:
- the new Audi A8 – so far the only car model included in level 3. While driving, it uses 41 support systems and functions for autonomous movement in traffic jams – aI traffic jam pilot.
- Tesla model 3 – a fully electric vehicle. However, what makes it an autonomous car are advanced autopilot functions, radars that analyse images from a long distance, 360° cameras and ultrasonic sensors.
- Mercedes E class – the German brand car has modern systems for autonomous driving. It reacts to other vehicles and can adjust its speed to current road conditions.
- Volvo XC90 – this car is perfectly adapted to autonomous driving. It is appreciated for providing a high level of safety. The environment analysis sensors are also placed on the roof.
Are autonomous vehicles the future of motoring?
Computers exceed humans in several respects. They are emotionless, guided only by specific algorithms, and ruthlessly follow the rules imposed. These issues are essential when it comes to vehicles and how they move on the road.
It is estimated that the production of autonomous cars could significantly reduce the number of accidents. It is a way of eliminating the risks associated with the so-called human factor – drunk drivers, fainting at the wheel and the bravado of drivers. Self-driving vehicles can also make it easier for disabled and blind people to move around.
Vehicles that do not need human control could be used in public transport such as taxis and buses. However, this is not likely to happen any time soon.
The automation of vehicles is still an unfinished process. However, their systems are being improved, and manufacturers are constantly coming up with new ideas. In particular, safety solutions are being enhanced so that you can get into an autonomous car without the slightest concern in the future.
People driving fully autonomous cars seems inevitable. However, the vehicles must first be refined so that they really become reliable and safe.