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All About Driver-less Cars

LinhPTK | May 5, 2017

Driver-less cars are the latest development in the automotive industry. They are also known as “autonomous vehicles,” and “self-driving cars.” Will this industry trend ever develop into a vehicle that the motorist can buy? How are cars made driver-less? Here are some facts about self-driving cars to answer these questions.

Who Makes Driverless Cars?
Google is pouring money into the development of driverless cars. They are the front runners in this technology in the USA. However, they are not the only dog in the fight. Internationally, Sweden’s Volvo is reckoned to be the furthest ahead in bringing these cars to market. Germany’s Audi and all the Japanese car makers are also in contention in this technology.

What Makes A Car Driverless?
Cruise control and automatic transmission have been around for years. Automated controls do not present challenges to modern motorcar makers. Research and development effort is going into the collision avoidance and position detection systems.

The Components of a Self-Driving System
Driver-less cars require GPS, cameras and radar sensors in order to steer a car.

  • GPS – The GPS element is a route planning tool rather than as a guidance system for keeping the car within lanes and away from collisions. A typical GPS is not accurate enough for positioning a car to a scale of inches.
  • Front mounted camera – this is usually combined with a radar or laser detection system and it reads road signs and monitors the bends in the road ahead.
  • Surround radar – with a radar sensor at each corner of the car, this creates a 360-degree buffer to detect nearby objects.
  • Front laser scanner – this can beam ahead of the car to detect upcoming objects, such as pedestrians or barriers.
  • Rear radar – this is mounted within the rear bumper and monitors movement and events behind the car.
  • Ultrasonic sensors – these surround the car and inform driving decisions when objects become very close. This is similar to the parking sensors that are fitted on new cars today.

As an example of how these elements combine, the Volvo self-drive system includes a total of 28 devices that include radar, laser scanners, cameras and ultrasonic units.

Levels of Service
Existing technology, such as automatic transmission, cruise control, GPS units and voice-activated hands-free devices are all early parts of driver-less systems. Cars on the road today include a combination of services that build up into a form of “driver-less lite” system. Not all new driver-less technology aims at producing a fully-driver-less system. Some developments monitor the awareness of the car’s driver and passenger. Such systems shut down the car if the driver is detected to have fallen asleep, or seems to be inebriated.

Current research aims to produce an intermediate phase of driver-less cars. In the future, all cars will have Vehicle2Vehicle communication systems. These will make many of the sensors needed on driver-less cars defunct. That will bring down the cost of the technology.

Legal Status
A big attraction of driver-less cars is that they will enable uninsurable drivers, or those who do not have a driver’s permit, to benefit from automobile transport. Therefore, recognition that the car itself is the driver, and not one of the passengers, is an essential part of the marketability of driver-less cars. In February 2016 the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declared that its previous requirement for every car to have a designated human had been dropped.

This is an important advance in the legal status of driverless cars because it prevents individual states from banning the vehicles, or insisting that one of the passengers can be held legally accountable for the performance of the car. This means that the driverless car is now regarded to be its own legal driver.

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