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How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?

Imagine getting into your car and simply telling it where you want to go, then the car takes you to your destination while you read a book, browse the internet, or take a nap. Think it’s science fiction?  Not anymore. Self-driving cars are here and will entirely change how we move from point A to point B.

Between 2019 and 2024, more autonomous vehicles with at least Level 1 autonomy (driver help) are anticipated to hit the market. In 2019, there were reportedly 31.4 million autonomous vehicles 2019, expected to rise to 54.2 million by 2024.

But before you take a chance and ride in one of these cars, you might be curious about how they operate. So how do these alluring self-driving cars even work?

What are Self-Driving Cars?

Self-driving cars or vehicles can drive themselves, even in the most challenging driving conditions.

Self-driving cars use various artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to navigate. A combination of radars, sensors, and cameras detects pedestrians and other vehicles on the road. The vehicle also uses GPS data to know where it is on a map and understand its surroundings better. 

Self-driving cars can navigate roads without human help. Some of these vehicles also have a Human Machine Interface (HMI), allowing them to communicate with their passengers and other drivers on the road.

How Does Self-Driving Work?

The self-driving car uses hardware sensors, software, and maps to operate.

  • The radar and lidar sensors detect nearby vehicles and humans.
  • The software determines when it’s safe to change lanes or turn corners.
  • A computerized map helps the car navigate roads, traffic jams, and construction zones.

Self-driving cars offer an advanced technology that’s changing the way we use cars. The idea is that instead of driving, you sit back and relax while your car takes you where you want to go.

Features of self-driving Cars

The following are some of the features available in self-driving cars:

Lane-Centering Steering

Lane-centering steering is a feature of self-driving cars that keeps the vehicle centered in its lane. It helps drivers stay on course.

The system uses sensors to check lane markings and keep the vehicle between them. If you begin to drift out of your lane, the system will nudge you back in. It will apply a corrective force to your steering wheel. This can help prevent accidents.

Warning for Lane Deviation

Cars need to stay in their lanes! Warning for lane deviation is another feature of self-driving cars that keeps drivers on course and out of danger. It uses sensors to check if your vehicle moves into another lane. It also detects if your car comes too close to an object in front of you. If it detects that you’re about to make an unsafe maneuver, it sounds an alarm. This warning allows you to take some precautions at the right time.

No More Blind Spots! Blind Area Monitoring

Using radar technology, self-driving cars scan the road and the car’s surrounding areas. It detects potential obstacles or hazards that are hidden from view. An obstruction, such as a pedestrian or an animal, will issue an alert.

Control for Electronic Stability

The electronic stability feature uses sensors to detect if your car skids and applies brakes to stop the skid. It also helps prevent sudden steering movements that can cause accidents.

Automatic Parking

Are you awful at parking? This feature steers you into a spot in a parking garage or along the curb outside your office building. You don’t need to parallel park yourself every morning when you get to work. Some systems can even retrieve your car for you when it’s time for lunch or happy hour!

Automated Braking

If a car ahead stops, this feature activates the brakes so you don’t rear-end it.

Types of Self-Driving Cars

There are different categories of self-driving cars, including:

  • Complete Autonomy: These vehicles can drive themselves in any condition without any human input. They can handle city traffic, highway driving, and even extreme weather conditions. Such vehicles are still developing and may not be available for several years.
  • Partial Autonomy: These vehicles still need human help in certain scenarios. But, they can drive themselves under regular circumstances like highway driving or even city traffic jams.
  • Assisted Driving: These vehicles include features that help drivers avoid accidents. These cars alert them when they’re about to make a mistake or take over control. For example, when the car senses it’s about to crash.

What Technologies are Inside Self-driving Cars?

A self-driving car uses various sensors and computers to see, hear and feel the world around it. Here are some of the technologies inside self-driving cars today:

  • Cameras — Cameras see what’s around the car, including pedestrians and other vehicles. They also detect lane lines on the road so the car knows where it should be driving.
  • Radar — Radar sends radio waves that bounce off objects and return information about their location and speed. This helps self-driving cars detect what’s around them at all times and avoid crashes.
  • LiDAR (light detection and ranging) — LIDAR measures distance by sending out pulsed laser light beams. It bounces off objects in front of the vehicle, then measures the time it takes for those pulses to return. LIDAR can also calculate an object’s shape and size by analyzing how long it takes light pulses to bounce off various parts of its surface.
  • Sensors – Sensors are an essential part of any self-driving car. They collect data about the environment around the vehicle and feed it back to the computer. This information allows the computer to decide how to drive.

What Challenges Do Self-Driving Cars Face?

Despite their excitement, self-driving cars face some challenges as well.

Self-Driving Technology is Expensive

The cost of sensors, software and other technology required to enable self-driving cars can be hundreds of thousands of dollars per vehicle. This can be expensive for many consumers and businesses, who may not want to invest in such an expensive product.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions are one of the biggest challenges for self-driving cars. Every year, there are more than 5,891,000 car accidents on average. Nearly 1,235,000 of these crashes, or about 21%, are weather-related.

Rain, snow, fog, and other types of inclement weather can make it difficult for sensors to observe the road. This is especially true if they are mounted on the vehicle’s roof instead of in front of them. If an autonomous car can’t see where it’s going, it can’t drive.

Intersections and Crosswalks

Another problem with self-driving cars is how they react when they encounter pedestrians or other vehicles at intersections or crosswalks. Most self-driving vehicles are programmed to identify people and cars crossing their path and stop before hitting them, but there have been instances when these systems have failed, and injuries have resulted.

Final Words -The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Autonomous vehicles can improve transportation across the globe. These cars are perfect for senior citizens, disabled individuals, and intoxicated individuals. However, it is still unrealistic to expect autonomous vehicles in more crowded places with irregular road markings, frequent roadwork, and high pedestrian traffic.

If you want to help create a self-driving car, an online coding course can help you. At Sololearn, you can learn in-demand programming languages, such as Python, which are increasingly used to create data processing software for self-driving cars.