Autonomous Cars: How Do Self-Driving Cars Work?

Published by Anubhav Singh on

self-driving car

It is really amazing to watch a driverless vehicle running automatically on the road. But ever wonder how do self-driving cars work? A self-driving car is a fully autonomous vehicle that does not need human while navigation. It uses sensors, cameras, radar, and artificial intelligence(AI) to travel between distances without the intervention of humans.

autonomous car system

Before discussing the technology behind autonomous cars, it is necessary to understand the definition of the technology used i.e. artificial intelligence.

What is Artificial Intelligence(AI)?

Artificial Intelligence(AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like a human and take decisions on their own.

artificial intelligence

We have a bunch of data and applying machine learning we teach the machines about some pre-conditional things present in our surroundings. On top of this, the programs are written, and when successfully executed it gains the power to understand from the historical data given and make their own decisions.

What is a Neural Network?

The neural networks identify patterns in the data, which is fed to the machine learning algorithms.

neural network structure

That data includes images from cameras on self-driving cars from which the neural network learns to identify traffic lights, trees, curbs, pedestrians, street signs, and other parts of any given driving environment.

How self-driving cars work?

Artificial Intelligence is the one that gives the power to the self-driving system. The developer of the driverless cars uses a vast amount of data from image recognition to system using machine learning and neural networks.

Here is an example of a neural network in Google’s self-driving car project, named Waymo, which uses a mix of sensors. Lidar(Light detecting and ranging), and the cameras. Mix the information from both of them and generate the data that identify the surrounding environment.

There is some following way by which Google Waymo works:

  • The driver sets a destination and the car has the software that will find the nearest possible route.
  •  A rotating, roof-mounted Lidar sensor monitors a 60-meter range around the car and creates a dynamic three-dimensional (3D) map of the car’s current surroundings.
  • A sensor on the left rear wheel monitors sideways movement to detect the car’s position relative to the 3D map.
  • Radar systems in the front and rear bumpers calculate distances to obstacles.
  • AI software in the car is connected to all the sensors and collects input from Google Street View and video cameras inside the car.
  • It also takes help from google maps to get information about the traffic lights and nearby landmarks.
  • There is an override function by which humans can take control over this.

Features of  self-driving cars

Nowadays, there are multiple companies like Audi, BMW, Volvo, tesla that is working over the self-driving system. They are having a lot of functions as autonomous but have a lower level of autonomy than Google’s Waymo. It has a high level of autonomy. It provides some following features like

self driving car

The futuristic instrument panel of a vehicle.

  • Hands-free steering
  • Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Automatic forward-collision braking
  • Automatic Parking
  • Autopilot
  • Lane keep assist
  • Sign recognition

Level of autonomy in self-driving cars

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lays out six levels of automation, beginning with Level 0, where humans do the driving, through driver assistance technologies up to fully autonomous cars. Here are the five levels that follow Level 0 automation

  • Level 1: An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) aids the human driver with steering, braking, or accelerating, though not simultaneously. An ADAS includes rearview cameras and features like a vibrating seat warning to alert drivers when they drift out of the traveling lane.
  • Level 2: An ADAS that can steer and either brake or accelerate simultaneously while the driver remains fully aware behind the wheel and continues to act as the driver.
  • Level 3: An automated driving system (ADS) can perform all driving tasks under certain circumstances, such as parking the car. In these circumstances, the human driver must be ready to retake control and is still required to be the main driver of the vehicle.
  • Level 4: ADS can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment in certain circumstances. In those circumstances, the ADS is reliable enough that the human driver needn’t pay attention to.
  • Level 5: The vehicle’s ADS acts as a virtual chauffeur and does all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are passengers and are never expected to drive the vehicle.

What are some benefits of a self-driving car?

Thinking about the possibilities that could be achieved from an autonomous vehicle is really great. Suppose you have lost any of your important files at home and now you can bring that for you. We will be able to reach a destination on time. We can sleep in the self-driving car and while our rest car will automatically navigate to our destination.

driver less car driver is sleeping

Sleeping driver in an autonomous car.

Well, it’s always amazing to think about the cool things about this. There are some below features that we are going to get from autonomy

  • Reduce traffic congestion (30% fewer vehicles on the road).
  • Cut transportation costs by 40% (in terms of vehicles, fuel, and infrastructure).
  • Improve walkability and livability.
  • Free up parking lots for other uses (schools, parks, community centers).
  • Reduce urban CO2 emissions by 80% worldwide.

Self-driving car safety and challenges

Autonomous cars must learn to identify countless objects in the vehicle’s path. Other challenges on the road are tunnels that interfere with the Global Positioning System (GPS), construction projects that cause lane changes, or complex decisions, like where to stop to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

The program needs to so much intelligent and quick that it can decide instant brakes or a normal emergency. It works well in bad weather conditions like fog and mist and heavy rain.  There is a continuous challenge for the developer to trained their program to tackle all these problems and provide a safe environment for the user.

Safety is almost a priority for any user and that’s why developers are working continuously. Let’s see when we are going to reach the level where we will be 100% of our autonomous car. Till then stay tuned with the brighter bees

Thank you


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