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How Does Autonomous Driving Work?

Autonomous driving has been touted as the future of transportation ever since Google started testing its self-driving cars in 2009, but while they are now becoming increasingly popular, the technology still isn’t very well understood by most people outside of the auto industry. How does autonomous driving work? Let’s take a look at some of the basics behind this cutting-edge technology and what we can expect from autonomous vehicles in the future.

An introduction to autonomous vehicles

What is autonomous driving? It’s pretty much what it sounds like—self-driving cars that are designed to work without a human actively driving them. Despite decades of sci-fi movies showing us how these vehicles will operate, there’s still plenty of room for debate about when and how autonomous vehicles will be deployed. Even as vehicle manufacturers race to push autonomous tech into everyday cars and trucks, regulators are figuring out what rules will be needed to ensure they’re safe on roadways. Many experts anticipate that we won’t see truly autonomous vehicles in stores until at least 2030, but automated systems could be deployed far sooner. In just five years’ time, some experts expect that a number of semi-autonomous features will be available in everyday cars.

How does self-driving technology work?

Self-driving cars are set to become a familiar sight on roads in 2021. However, despite our cultural familiarity with autonomous vehicles, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what these cars actually do. A recent survey revealed that 56% of people think autonomous driving technology is controlled by artificial intelligence or AI. In reality, though, it isn’t an advanced form of AI at all; rather, autonomous vehicles are operated by algorithms that monitor inputs from sensors and other sources (such as traffic signals) to navigate safely between locations. Let’s look more closely at how self-driving systems work.
The first thing to understand is that autonomous vehicles don’t use AI. The core technology used in self-driving cars is actually computer vision, which uses cameras to identify and track objects around a vehicle. For example, when a self-driving car is approaching an intersection and needs to decide whether or not to proceed straight ahead, it can refer back to an image of what that intersection looked like when it drove through it previously.

How safe is autonomous driving?

To date, much of our knowledge about driverless vehicles has come from self-driving tests on public roads and in specific settings, like college campuses. But those settings provide limited information about how autonomous cars will perform in real-world situations that are impossible to predict, like extreme weather conditions or heavy traffic. All of which is why there’s a new push to accelerate testing by letting these vehicles loose on city streets—even if they lack safety measures like steering wheels or brake pedals. Until these cars hit public roads without human backup drivers behind them, it’s impossible to know just how safe they are. To learn more about autonomous driving safety, read our guide on what you need to know about driverless technology before you take your next ride.

When will I be able to buy a fully self-driving car?

The autonomous car is coming. Companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple are in a race to make cars that drive themselves. But for now, you can only buy partially self-driving cars or even just self-driving features as add-ons. That’s why most automakers are teaming up with tech companies and using them as a way to catch up with Silicon Valley. Here’s what you need to know about how autonomous driving works and when you might be able to buy your own fully self-driving car.
The concept of a self-driving car has been around for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that we saw real progress in making them a reality. In fact, some of that innovation can be credited to a former Googler named Anthony Levandowski who was part of an autonomous driving team at Google. He left in 2010 and eventually founded Otto, which was quickly acquired by Uber in 2016. After its acquisition by Uber, Otto developed technology for converting regular trucks into self-driving ones that deliver freight and is already working with major companies such as JB Hunt and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Who’s leading the way in self-driving tech and what are they doing?

Companies from around the world are racing to develop autonomous driving systems, but five global leaders have emerged. While Google has been working on developing self-driving cars since 2009, Tesla is most widely known for its work on autonomous vehicles—the Silicon Valley startup uses a combination of cameras and radar sensors to drive its Model S cars. But both companies have competition: Volkswagen recently announced that it would spend $4 billion to bring self-driving cars to market by 2020, and General Motors is testing semi-autonomous Chevy Bolts in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona. Meanwhile, automakers like Nissan plan to release fully autonomous vehicles within three years.

Is AI even ready for something like Autonomous driving yet?

Although self-driving cars may seem like a recent development, they’ve actually been in development for decades. However, autonomous driving has yet to make any significant headway as most self-driving cars still require humans to take over in certain circumstances. Although it might seem that artificial intelligence isn’t up to snuff, current developments indicate otherwise. Specifically, Nvidia has just unveiled a chip called Xavier that could be an essential part of autonomous vehicles moving forward. In short, we might see more widespread use of autonomous cars sooner than you think!

Which companies are developing and testing autonomous vehicles, what are they doing and why it matters?

Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, or Waymo for short, has been in development since 2009. More than one million miles have been driven autonomously, across a variety of terrains and driving conditions. During that time there have been only 20 accidents, which Waymo says were all caused by human error. Google has started to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California and Arizona—though with safety drivers present at all times—and has talked about testing in other states as well. Uber is testing autonomous cars in Pittsburgh and Phoenix (as well as overseas) with a goal of operating these vehicles on public roads by 2020.
GM’s autonomous vehicle division, Cruise Automation, has tested self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs on public roads in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s also made a deal with Lyft to develop autonomous technology for ride-hailing services. One of its cars drove itself across Manhattan.

Where are we headed with this technology – how far away are we from having driverless cars on our roads, who stands to benefit most from this technology and more.

With all of our roads already built, autonomous driving has a distinct advantage when it comes to implementation. It’s likely that we will start to see specific routes dedicated for driverless vehicles within 5 years. Driverless cars won’t be as common as standard vehicles for 20 more years. But by that time, most of us will already have adapted to their presence on the roadways we travel on every day.
The biggest players in autonomous driving are major automakers like Volvo, Tesla and Ford. They are all heavily investing in driverless technology for their vehicles as we speak. Google is also a big player, and it continues to experiment with different types of autonomous driving technologies for its driverless cars. Uber has recently announced it will start testing its self-driving taxi service (with humans onboard) in Pittsburgh, PA later in 2016. With all of these players involved and vying for market share, there’s no doubt that autonomous vehicle adoption is closer than ever before. But when it comes to who stands to benefit most from adopting driverless technology on our roads over human drivers, a recent study found that pedestrians would likely be top beneficiaries.

Autonomous Driving Jobs

If you’re thinking about working for an autonomous driving startup, there are many different skills that you’ll need to develop and fine-tune. Before diving in, it can be helpful to get a sense of what kind of roles are involved with building an autonomous vehicle. There are lots of job opportunities in self-driving cars—and many of them don’t involve being behind a wheel or steering wheel at all. Here is a brief summary on some of those jobs: Designers create autonomous vehicles as well as their components, such as electric motors and sensors.
Data scientists work to analyze vehicle data that comes from cameras, LIDAR, GPS and radar. They help self-driving vehicles improve their performance on a daily basis. Software engineers develop new technology used in autonomous vehicles and make sure they run smoothly without any glitches. Vehicle testers test out all of an autonomous vehicle’s features before it launches to consumers. They also ensure that it is safe for consumers after it has launched.
Modelers create virtual models of autonomous vehicles for simulators or prototyping devices to help software engineers develop code. Prototypers use 3D printers to make quick-and-dirty prototypes so designers can see how their designs will look in real life.


Car manufacturers have been working to make autonomous driving a reality for decades. Is it really just around the corner, or is autonomous driving simply out of reach for mere mortals like you and me? Before we dive into that question, let’s take a look at how it all works.




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