Thanks to Uber’s misadventures, self-driving cars have been hitting the headlines lately. But how much do we know about how they work and are they truly all they’re cracked up to be?
How it works
Self-driving cars are built around a sophisticated combination of three separate technologies – sensors, connectivity and software/control algorithms.
We’re already familiar with sensors thanks to advanced safety features like blind-spot monitoring, lane assistance and forward collision warning. Throw in sensors for radar, ultrasonics and cameras and you’ve got all the tech you need for fully autonomous driving.
When it comes to safe self-driving tech, the devil is in the data. Connectivity supplies all the info self-driving cars need to keep us safe on the road – things like the latest traffic, weather, surface conditions, construction, maps and road infrastructure.
Last but not least, software/control algorithms capture the data from sensors and connectivity and make decisions about steering, braking, speed and route guidance on our behalf. Given the unpredictability of the driving environment and the number of scenarios the software must take into account, this is by far the most complex part of the self-driving equation.
Supporters of self-driving cars argue they’re safer than we humans will ever be. They’re not easily distracted, don’t act on impulse and aren’t unduly affected by stress. Other obvious pros include a reduction in traffic accidents and drunk driving, easy access for older and disabled drivers and more traffic on the road thanks to sensors allowing cars to travel more closely behind one another.
Besides the legal minefield of who is responsible in the event of an accident, other cons include cost, providing adequate security against potential hackers and weather conditions wreaking havoc on sensors located on the exterior of the car.
Whether you’re in or you’re out, self-driving technology is destined to become part of our future. The only question that remains is how long it’ll take to become our ‘new normal’.