What are Autonomous Vehicles?
Autonomous vehicles, also known as driverless cars, or self-driving cars, are vehicles that can move and navigate without human input. They can perceive their surroundings and location through a mixture of sensors, cameras, AI, and radar enabling them to travel independently. By using these systems, they can interpret the information they receive to detect obstacles and choose proper navigation paths and when to stop and start.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has created a set of criteria that define a vehicle’s level of autonomy, known as the six levels of autonomous driving.
Where are the self-driving vehicles?
With all the technological advancements in autonomous driving and ADAS, you must be wondering why we aren’t all being driven around by our vehicles. Well, they may not be readily available to the masses, but there are more self-driving cars around than you might think. Here are some popular examples.
ParkShuttle: the ParkShuttle is an electric, autonomous shuttle service in the Netherlands. This is a fully autonomous bus service that runs between the Kralingse Zoom metro station in Rotterdam and Capelle aan den Ijssel. The ParkShuttle vehicles follow a virtual route where their positions are checked based on artificial reference points, and they stop at fixed positions at each stop. These vehicles are also unidirectional, so they remove the need to turn around. What’s mind-blowing about the ParkShuttle is that it has been around since 1999, when it was launched. Since then, it has become more robust, and its technology refined to ensure a faster and more reliable service.
Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’: Tesla is usually the first company to come to mind when you think of a “self-driving” car – and whilst Tesla claims that their autopilot feature has full self-driving capability, Tesla still wholly encourages that it requires full driver supervision and that the vehicle is not fully autonomous… yet.
The autopilot feature includes eight smart cameras with 360 degrees of visibility and up to 250 metres of visibility when driving autonomously. Tesla also promised that, through software updates, they will continue to improve this feature and lead the way in autonomy.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover: unlike NASA’s previous rovers, Perseverance is the closest thing to a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle they have made – and it’s not even on our planet! This vehicle was placed on Mars with a list of objectives to complete within one Martian year (687 Earth days), and whilst it will be monitored by us on Earth, Perseverance is almost fully autonomous in its actions, exploring for signs of life forms, collecting rock and dust, and data collection.
It’s already impressive that a vehicle can autonomously drive and collect data, let alone do this over 65 million miles away and send that information that distance too. Perseverance uses a vision system similar to those found in most modern cars and uses two cameras to help create three-dimensional pictures of its surroundings, from which it can then navigate the safest routes. This camera is also used by NASA to help calculate the distance it has travelled.
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