Self-driving cars are popular innovation today, expected to become widely used within the next few years. But you may be wondering, “how do self-driving cars work?” In this article, we’ll show you everything you need to know. 

What is a Self-Driving Car?

Self-driving white car

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A self-driving car doesn’t require a human driver to operate. Also called autonomous or driverless vehicles, there are fully self-driving vehicles in production today as well as semi-autonomous cars on the market with features such as self-parking. Fully autonomous cars aren’t currently legal to operate in the United States; however, the hype is growing, and laws change. 

Partially autonomous vehicles come in features like:

  • Cruise control
  • Lane assistance
  • Brake assistance (automatic braking)
  • Self-parking (parallel parking)

Self-driving prototypes vary, based on the layer of autonomy the car requires. Researchers describe and split the levels of autonomous vehicles into five levels:

  • Level 0 – Traditional cars, which require a human to control all major systems. 
  • Level 1 – A few systems are controlled by the car, such as cruise control. 
  • Level 2 – The vehicle offers no less than two automated functions that work at once, such as steering and acceleration, and require a human to operate the vehicle safely. 
  • Level 3 – The vehicle handles most safety-critical functions in some conditions, yet a human driver takes over when the car alerts you. 
  • Level 4 – A fully-autonomous vehicle in some scenarios, but not all situations
  • Level 5 – A vehicle that’s fully capable of self-driving regardless of the situation. 

Although self-driving technology is still in the early stages, it’s becoming increasingly common. The introduction of this technology into everyday life could radically transform how people live, the entire transportation industry, and the economy. Automakers project to have a fully autonomous car in most driving scenarios (level 4) for sale within a few years. 

What are the Benefits to Self-Driving Cars?

Auto-piloted car front view

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Humans make huge mistakes while driving, and self-driving cars are designed to reduce the likelihood of an accident while boosting your safety. Studies show that human error causes over 94% of car accidents. Car accidents lead to a huge number of unnecessary deaths each year, which could be easily avoided with safe and cautious driving. 

Self-driving cars are:

  • Safer – Although riding in an autonomous car sounds scary, they’re much safer than a vehicle driven by a human because they’re not affected by outside factors such as emotion, driver fatigue, or illness. 
  • Easier – Roadways will be safer with self-driving cars, leading to less need for emergency response services, expensive car insurance plans, and accident-related death health care plans. 
  • Attentive – The vehicle is constantly observing the environment around them and scanning in multiple directions at once, so it’s always paying attention and anticipating the movements around you. 
  • Helpful – Self-driving technology allows people who have mobility issues to move around more freely, such as the disabled and elderly. With the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles, the public transportation system will also need to progress. 
  • Environmentally-friendly – While electric vehicles produce less negative impacts on the environment, self-driving cars could increase shared rides and drop emission levels. 
  • Affordable – Expensive vehicles are a thing of the past. Although self-driving vehicles cost more than traditional cars, technology can also help people save money long-term. Models are expected to become much less expensive soon. 
  • Productive – With a self-driving car, you can get much more done. You don’t have to take time to drive, look for a place to park or sit in as much congested traffic. Watch a movie as the car cruises from point A to B, relax in the comfy seats, or crack open your laptop and get some work done. 
  • Fuel efficient – Self-driving cars consume less fuel and alleviate traffic conditions that could cause delays. 

There are other benefits to owning a self-driving car that could change the entire outlook of your life 20 years from now. You might rent out your driverless vehicle when you’re not using it as rideshare, earning extra money rather than leaving the vehicle to sit in the driveway 90% of the time. 

But the best part is that with driverless vehicles becoming more common, you might not need to purchase your own car. This could allow you to save on rising insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs. Even if you don’t own your own self-driving car, you can use them rather than traditional public transportation for a more relaxing and cheaper experience

How Do Self Driving Cars Work?

Self-driving car tested driving outside the street

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You may still find yourself wondering, “how do self-driving cars work?” Recent technology has changed the way people live and will soon lead to making driverless cars a reality. The New York Times offers an excellent diagram of how driverless cars see the world around them

The easy answer is that autonomous cars use a combination of sensors and software to navigate and control the car. However, self-driving cars are possible, thanks to three leading technologies: IoT sensors, IoT connectivity, and software algorithms. 

IoT Sensors

Various types of sensors are available today that are used for autonomous vehicles, and many of these technological sensors work together to produce a safe, driverless functionality. Sensors could include blind-spot monitoring, radar cameras, forward collision warnings, ultrasonic, or LIDAR. 

IoT Connectivity

To decide which route to take and where to drive, a self-driving vehicle uses a form of cloud computing. It takes maps, weather, surface conditions, adjacent cars, and traffic data into consideration before making an informed decision. However, the car needs to be connected to the internet for this to work. 

Software Algorithms

Once the car has collected all this data from the internet, it needs to analyze the data to decide which course of action is best. Self-driving vehicles use software and algorithms to provide this level of control. It’s the main function that’s complex, as the vehicle must make complex and flawless computations. Any small flaw in this software algorithm can result in fatal results, such as in Uber’s driverless accident.  

How Do Google and Tesla Driverless Cars Work?

Google self-driving down the street

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The most well-known self-driving cars that exist right now were models created by two main automakers and technology innovators: Google and Telsa. Both options function differently. 

Telsa vehicles constantly analyze the environment nearby using a software system called “Autopilot.” This high-tech system uses cameras to collect and view data about the world, similar to the way humans use their eyes to take in their surroundings. It’s known as “computer vision” or a sophisticated form of image recognition software that interprets information and makes the best decision moving forward. 

Google, on the other hand, uses a different approach. The company uses LIDAR sensor technology, which is like radar but functions using light rather than radio waves. This means the vehicles Google produces don’t require a steering wheel or pedals.

Various technologies also being created by Uber, Nissan, other major automakers, large tech companies, and researchers. Self-driving models are expected to widely take over the market in 2020, and self-driving technology is expected to continue growing. 

What Happens If a Driverless Car Loses Internet Connection?

M-byte in the mall

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If your self-driving car, which requires an internet connection to work appropriately, loses internet connection, your vehicle may stop operating. You may drop an internet connection if you drive through a tunnel or take a country road where there are weak connections. Dropping the internet for less than an hour is no big deal, the car should continue to function normally. However, issues arise if your vehicle isn’t connected to the internet at all. 

The first thing to stop working would probably be the navigations system, which controls features like traffic services. Self-driving vehicles can’t show a route or plot a course without the navigation system. Then, the communication system in the infrastructure would fail. This means the car wouldn’t be able to pay for things like a toll-road or in places where you must pay to park. 

Any features in a self-driving car that aren’t face-to-face are probably powered by the internet. Without it, the vehicle can’t work appropriately. Let’s say you’re moving when the car loses internet connection. The car would perform an emergency stop, waiting until the internet reconnects to ensure the vehicle won’t run into a tree, for example. 

Internet connectivity allows you to do some pretty cool things with self-driving cars, like call the vehicle to your location using an app. However, the internet connection isn’t required in all autonomous cars. Like GPS navigation in older cars don’t require the internet to function, some driverless cars offer driving functions on-board. That way, if something does happen, a human can take control.

Vital Safety Concerns for Driverless Cars

If your self-driving car, which requires an internet connection to work appropriately, loses internet connection, your vehicle may stop operating. You may drop an internet connection if you drive through a tunnel or take a country road where there are weak connections. Dropping the internet for less than an hour is no big deal, the car should continue to function normally. However, issues arise if your vehicle isn’t connected to the internet at all. 

The first thing to stop working would probably be the navigations system, which controls features like traffic services. Self-driving vehicles can’t show a route or plot a course without the navigation system. Then, the communication system in the infrastructure would fail. This means the car wouldn’t be able to pay for things like a toll-road or in places where you must pay to park. 

Any features in a self-driving car that aren’t face-to-face are probably powered by the internet. Without it, the vehicle can’t work appropriately. Let’s say you’re moving when the car loses internet connection. The car would perform an emergency stop, waiting until the internet reconnects to ensure the vehicle won’t run into a tree, for example. 

Internet connectivity allows you to do some pretty cool things with self-driving cars, like call the vehicle to your location using an app. However, the internet connection isn’t required in all autonomous cars. Like GPS navigation in older cars don’t require the internet to function, some driverless cars offer driving functions on-board. That way, if something does happen, a human can take control.

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