Autonomous Driving – Short Explanation

Autonomous Driving is more colloquially known as “self driving” and applies to vehicles that operate without any human intervention or involvement. Popularized through television and movies for years, autonomous driving is starting to make its presence felt in the real world. It has been defined to have six different levels by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) as follows:

  • Level 0 (No Automation) – here, the driver performs all of the functions from steering to braking.
  • Level 1 (Driver Assistance) – at this level, there is one automated system that can help the driver. An example is cruise control, which helps maintain a specific speed.
  • Level 2 (Partial Automation) – at level 2, the driver is still monitoring the system. The vehicle can steer and accelerate, however, but it can be overruled by the driver at any time.
  • Level 3 (Conditional Automation) – level 3 automation lets the vehicle acclimatize to environmental conditions also in addition to steering and acceleration. The human driver is still able to override the car if required.
  • Level 4 (High Automation) – level 4 automation lets the vehicle perform all of the required functions in a specific area. The driver is still able to take control if needed.
  • Level 5 (Full Automation) – level 5 automation lets a vehicle perform all functions regardless of the area. With full automation, human intervention is not required.

Autonomous Driving in the Real World

Self driving systems work by creating a picture of the vehicle and the surrounding conditions through a system of sensors. These sensors range from radar to lidar and even laser beams. Information obtained through these sensors is processed by internal computer systems and based on the information provided, the vehicles decide on the right actions.

Pundits predicted that by 2020 our roads would be teeming with fully autonomous vehicles. However, currently there are no vehicles on the road that meet the standards set out for full automation. There are some vehicles that are partially automated, however, which does give hope to an eventual future of fully autonomous driving.

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Autonomous Driving in the World of AI

The benefits of autonomous driving are still to be realized in reality, but they cannot be discounted. A primary benefit includes safety as self-driving vehicles are expected to reduce the number of motor vehicle deaths dramatically. However, another benefit is equalization. Self-driving cars will provide freedom to those that cannot drive due to age or health reasons.

AI will help power this growth, but it is also, to some extent, the reason for its late arrival. AI has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past decade, but having AI fully take on the role of an autonomous driver is still some time away. The primary reason for this is the lack of real-world training data to teach AI. Companies are working hard to address this lack, however, and the race is on for a fleet of self-driving vehicles.