What is a Self-Driving Car? How do Self-Driving cars work?

what-is-a-self-driving-car, how-do-self-driving-cars-work

Image by Julien Tromeur from Pixabay

The world is ready to welcome the new technology and the stage is almost set for the full-fledged arrival of Self-Driven cars in the market and the internet is already filled with such Self-driving cars articles that talk about the technology in parts and try to offer some information about these autonomous vehicles, however, we still find it difficult to make a good understanding of the technology. So, here is the simplest description of the technology for you, hope you’ll enjoy it.

An Auto-Driven vehicle, additionally referred to as an autonomous vehicle (AV), connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV), driverless vehicle, rob-car or robotic vehicle, could be any motor-vehicle that may sense the activities and vehicles or devices around its environment, employs it’s security and movement control features intelligently to maintain an accurately calculated distance between itself and the other recognized such entities and move safely with little or no human input at an eligible required speed.

What kind of sensors are used in autonomous car technology, and how do driverless cars work?

Though, the answer to the first question that comes to our mind- “how do autonomous cars work?” can vary as different car manufacturers have their own alternatives for the sensors however considering the Google’s self-driven cars a standard for the time-being (changes will be deployed as the technology evolves ahead), driverless car has mostly eight sensors.

One amongst the most considerable sensors is the rotating roof-top LiDAR – It’s majorly a camera that uses a simultaneous array of 32 or 64 lasers beams to measure the distance between itself and another close by objects to generate a 3D map within a range of surrounding 200m, which allows the car to visualize the surroundings realistically and calculate the distance required to be maintained with those objects. These cars also have a standard camera that points through the windscreen that helps in the creation of that 3D map. These also monitor for nearby risks like- pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists – and also at the same time read road signs and detect traffic lights.

What is LIDAR?

Driverless vehicles are not a full-fledged reality on the roads as yet, however, this technology can never be an integral part of our life without the involvement of LIDAR related technology that makes such devices possible and plays a major role in keeping the passengers safe.

LIDAR- the technology was introduced in the early 1960s. It stands for “Light Detection and Ranging”, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. It is precisely an amalgamation of light and Radar.

What does LIDAR in cars do?- IT bounces light off the objects to realize actually where they are located, in the same way as a radar uses radio waves and sends out pulses of light outside of the visible scope and time how long it takes for them to bounce back the pulses. The time span of the light to reflection educates the sensor about the distance and shape of that object.

LIDAR creates a 3D map which is called point-cloud, it collects all the data of the location and distance between the acting LIDAR sensor and each detected object around the vehicle. Then with the help of this comprehensive point-cloud map, LIDAR creates a detailed image of the surroundings. The vehicle uses this point-cloud through-out the travel (between starting-point and destination) and calculates the accurate direction for its movement to ensure no accidents at all. Its ability to monitor and realize the obstacles and visualize an instant accurate picture of the surroundings enables the processors inside the vehicle to recognize the variety of objects like different vehicles, road markings, and people, speed-breakers, foot-paths and even pits on the road. This feature reads the road conditions – and takes error-free evasive actions at a lightning speed, whether that’s slowing down, stopping, turning the direction or just about anything a human can think of.

In simple words, the technology works along with other types of sensors and onboard cameras to monitor the objects in the proximity of the vehicle.

There is a rear-mounted aerial outside the car that receives geolocation information from GPS satellites and an ultrasonic sensor on one of the rear wheels that examines the car’s movements.

These cars have altimeters, gyroscopes and a tachometer (a rev counter) built inside to give it more granular measurements on the car’s position. Combined together these produce highly accurate data needed to carry out all the functions required to drive the car safely. For example, Google cars can effortlessly recognize a bike and understand that if the cyclist shows an arm to left or right, they intend to make a signal. The car then knows to slow down or makes adjustments in its direction to give the biker enough space to take a turn.

Does LIDAR have any limitations?

Despite having such a big amount of nice features LIDAR has few minor faults too. A 2015 research paper claimed that the LIDAR systems on driverless cars may well be discomfited by an easy laser pointer. It found a low-power laser and generator may fool an automobile into believing different cars and pedestrians are around it. This open vulnerability could lead to cars being stopped suddenly within the middle of the road if they perceived what they believed to be another car or a pedestrian. LIDAR may also be tormented by weather conditions, which can disturb the range and accuracy settings of the sensors. All the manufacturers are not considering LIDAR as essential equipment and constantly working on finding even better options that can overcome these limitations appropriately.

Are Self-Driving Cars Safe?

Theoretically(practically, it is yet to be proven), self-driving cars will be much secure as they would eliminate some of the common reasons for road mishaps like- human driving error, lack of driving skills, fatigue, foggy conditions, and distraction, to name a few.

Another advantage is that people could use their precious time in more productive things while driving. Traffic will run more smoothly as the traffic rules will be followed by all vehicles strictly, which also allows controlled use of energy and better performance of the vehicles plus more machine life. The majority of such benefits won’t be seen until most (possibly even 100%) of the traffic becomes self-driven.

There could be 2 major categories of autonomous vehicles on the basis of their inbuilt computing processors:

  1. The autonomous vehicle – This type of vehicle relies on its own sensors to learn about the surroundings on the road, traffic conditions, pedestrians, pits, strange objects which have fallen on the road, etc. (data given by GPS) and its own processors to monitor and take actions. Most of the sensor detection is done on these parameters because self-driven vehicles can stay safer in a world of other human-driven vehicles.
  1. The network vehicle – this type of vehicle can communicate with other similar vehicles running on the road and these will use cloud computing technology to controls the sensors. This is not so reliable as it can have connectivity issues and more problems like the issues you face in using your mobile or Wi-Fi network on the go. Though, it doesn’t look like a good idea for autonomous vehicles however this is also in the reckoning.
what-is-a-self-driving-car, how-do-self-driving-cars-work

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

On the basis of gradual advancement of technology there can be 5 levels of Self-Driven vehicles:

The 5 Levels of Autonomous Vehicles are:

  • Level 0 – No Automation. This describes your everyday car
  • Level 1 – Driver Assistance. Here we can find your adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist to help with driving fatigue
  • Level 2 – Partial Automation
  • Level 3 – Conditional Automation
  • Level 4 – High Automation
  • Level 5 – Full Automation

Driverless Cars Pros and Cons:

It’s time to discuss the pros and cons of the self-driving car as no technology comes without advantages and disadvantages, so let’s see what possibly they would be :


 –  You don’t need to drive when the traffic is heavy

– you can use your time in doing something important while your travel hours

–    In an emergency at odd hours especially if you are old, you will find it lifesaving

–    A boon for disabled people and for those who can’t drive due to vision problems

–    No human driving means a decrease in human errors

–    There’s no need for a driver so accommodate more passengers if needed

–    More leg-room in the vehicle as the steering wheel is not needed

–    No worries if you feel like sleeping while traveling as driving can be taken care of by the car itself

–    Sooner or later, this is an inevitable future of robotics and cloud computing

–    No need to learn driving or apply for a license (though, it’s a big point of arguments for now)

–    Even kids could learn to operate such cars and parents can be sure of their kids’ safety

–    It will do a world of good to older people for sure


–    You will never be able to enjoy the thrill of car-driving anymore

–    Drivers will lose their jobs and this will increase unemployment

–    Not only the cars will be very expensive but the repair will also tear off your clothes

–    People will be even fatter because it takes away the physical activity, more comfort brings laziness

–    Kids or other people may misuse the technology

–    End of traffic police

–    If a car breaks-down due to an internal error on the highway or in the middle of a forest, no local repair shop will be able to repair it

–    Cyber criminals could find out ways of controlling the vehicle or corrupting the processors remotely

–    Human kind will slowly lose their ability to think fast, act fast and decision-making abilities based on the situations.

–    Exposure to Radiation

We know the technology is still testing tables however it is obvious that soon it will be a part of our lives fully so before going into that phase we all have similar questions like-“Are driverless cars safe?” and “How ready are we to accept the technology really?”, and apart from all the above-discussed pro and cons, there are more concerns that are worthy of a thorough discussion. Experts believe that self-driving cars will be life savers and be safer than human-driven vehicles. However, we still have a long way to go before it becomes a reality, and the manufacturers will look into the correction of a lot of concerns carefully and come out with concrete safety features and standards for sure. According to the World Economic Forum, this huge jump into technology by automobiles industry will bring approximately  $3.1 trillion annually by bringing down the number of crashes, saving man-hours, cost of car ownership, need for emergency services, & much more.

When will Self Driving Cars be Available?

As per a CNBC article (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/29/experts-say-its-at-least-a-decade-before-you-can-buy-a-self-driving-car.html), written by Phil LeBeau:

  • · Auto and tech industry experts predict it will be at least 12 years before fully autonomous vehicles are being sold to private buyers.
  • Industry insiders think robot-taxis will not be ready for widespread public use until 2025.
  • By the year 2034, autonomous vehicles will make up just 10% of all vehicles being bought and sold

When will Level 5 Autonomous Cars be Available?

So, the conclusion is that for now, there is no specific time suggested by any expert anywhere officially.

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