June 17, 2015

Autonomous (Self-Driving) Vehicles

We are a part of an exciting era where technology is evolving as fast as our imagination. Autonomous or Self driving vehicles, which not long before were only seen in movies or car exhibitions as concept vehicles, may start showing up on roads very soon. The volume of disruption this may cause is evident in the fact that Google is already taking a lead in this technology, ahead of big and established car makers. As per Google's blog post from May 2015, few of the prototype vehicles may even leave the test tracks and start hitting the roads this summers accompanied with Safety drivers.

Here is what a Google Car experience may look like:


 
The technology intricacies

There are 3 essential technologies which drive the autonomous vehicles
  • Identifying the autonomous vehicle's own position / location like the GPS technology
  • Identifying the position / location of other objects in the surroundings which requires precise sensors 
  • Decision making system which makes smart decisions based on the above 2 inputs.
To appreciate the complexity of understanding such autonomous vehicles require, consider the fact that such vehicles need to respond differently to different objects on the roads - a pedestrian crossing the street, a bicycle passing by, or another vehicle trying to overtake. The system needs to classify these objects based on shape, size, movement patterns, locations. But the good thing is that we are getting there and even beyond. For example the Google autonomous vehicle may identify a large / heavy vehicle on the road and try to maintain a safe distance from that, just to make passengers feel more comfortable. The vehicle also slows down in a natural manner on 4 way crossings and indicates intent to go first by making natural vehicle movements.

Here is an interesting infographic on what we can expect with Autonomous Vehicles & when:
Source
Another interesting infographic takes a look at how the Autonomous Vehicles impact and disrupt the automotive industry economy. 
Source


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