Autonomous vehicles (AV), also known as self-driving cars, driverless cars or robo-cars are vehicles that are capable of sensing their environment and moving safely with little or no human input.
AVs use a variety of sensors, artificial intelligence and control systems to operate themselves including: radar, lidar, sonar, GPS, odometry and inertial measurement units. Another fundamental element of self-driving cars is their ability to communicate with each other along a string (also called a platoon) to maintain safety along the road regardless of conditions or situations.
Self-driving vehicles have been a goal and challenge for inventors for hundreds of years, dating back to da Vinci’s Self-Propelled Cart in the 1500’s. Automated aircraft and boatcraft were instrumental building blocks to autonomous vehicles, with self-propelled torpedoes and aircraft autopilot coming in 1868 and 1933. Ralph Teetor invented cruise control in 1945 after becoming frustrated by the car’s rocking motion when driving with his lawyer. The Stanford Cart, created in 1961 by James Adams amidst the space race, was a remote-controlled lunar rover that ultimately became the world’s first self-driving wheeled vehicle.
Tesla Autopilot, released in 2015, created one of the biggest kickstarts to autonomous vehicle technology. The feature allowed hands-free control highway driving and was released to Tesla owners in the form of a single software update.
Autonomous Vehicle are currently categorized by level of autonomy. There are 6 autonomy levels (level 0-level 5).
Level 0: The human driver does all the driving.
Level 1: An advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) on the vehicle can sometimes assist the human driver with either steering or braking/accelerating, but not both simultaneously.
Level 2: An ADAS on the vehicle can itself actually control both steering and braking/accelerating simultaneously under some circumstances. The human driver must continue to pay full attention (“monitor the driving environment”) at all times and perform the rest of the driving task.
Level 3: AN ADAS can perform all parts of the driving task in some conditions, but the human driver is required to be able to regain control when requested to do so by the ADAS. In the remaining conditions, the human driver executes the necessary tasks.
Level 4: The ADAS is able to perform all driving tasks independently in certain conditions in which human attention is not required.
Level 5: The ADAS on the vehicle can do all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are just passengers and need never be involved in driving.