Driverless Cars? How do they work?

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what are driverless cars

Driverless cars? You’ll be hearing more about these over the coming years as big names – such as Tesla, BMW and Audi – invest the funds to take a greater share of what is becoming an exciting new market. Perhaps we’re just one step away from pilotless planes, too.

Imagine talking to someone from the 1950s, telling them how – in around 60 years – driverless cars would cease to be a thing of the future. In fact, they would be a thing of the here and now, something that was about to enter the mainstream.

Somewhat predictably (and perhaps understandably), he would have laughed you out of the water. Driverless cars aren’t such a laughing matter anymore, machines that are quickly becoming more and more sophisticated to deal with the demands of our daily commute.

Advantages of Driverless Cars

But, are there even any advantages of driverless cars? Don’t they increase the potential risk of accidents? What happens when things go wrong?

To the contrary, driverless cars are more advanced than you might think.

Fully automated vehicles are, at least in theory, safer than vehicles controlled by mere humans. This is particularly true in a world where all vehicles are automated, meaning there is even less interaction between human and non-human controlled vehicles.

A great deal of research is currently being conducted to master their safety profile. In fact, estimates show that the market for driverless cars is growing almost 17% each year, a market that is projected to be worth almost $1 billion by 2025.

How do Driverless Cars Work?

The technology that underpins driverless cars is complex. Here, though, we’ll review some of the fundamentals that lay at the heart of how they work.

Radar sensors play a significant role. Sensors detect the presence of nearby cars, the more sensors on the vehicle, the more accurate the response from sensors. It informs the computer that vehicles are nearby and they’re to be avoided. The car then responds accordingly.

On-board cameras, too, have tremendous function. These cameras are used to “read” the environment – from traffic lights and road signs, to obstacles and even human traffic; these are cameras that function as the eyes and ears of the automated vehicle.

Other sensors, called lidar sensors, are used to send beams of light out from the vehicle. These beams inform the computer of nearby structural features, such as curbs. Other sensors, located in the wheels, assist in this detection role.

Finally, the driverless car works by means of a central computer. And like all computers, it has inputs and outputs, receiving information from the sensors and detectors described earlier, and relaying this information outward in the form of acceleration, brakes and steering.

So, let's review...

  • Radar sensors
  • On-board cameras
  • Lidar sensors
  • Central computer

Together, these are the means by which driverless cars work.

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