Autonomous Car Technology – Past, Present, and Future

Building The Dream Of Automated Driving Cars

Throughout the past decade, we have witnessed one of the greatest strides in automobile technology with the focus on autonomous cars.

Advancements have accelerated with the participation of the leading car developers including BMW, Ford, Audi, and most recently Google and Tesla entering the ring.

While you may only recently have heard about self-driving cars in the news, you may be surprised to know that researchers have been experimenting with self-driving vehicles for over 45 years.

An early article in IEEE Spectrum from July 1969 was published outlining technical research performed by and experimentation to produce the first vehicle that will operate autonomously.

In their featured article, lead engineers Robert E. Fenton and Karl W. Olson hypothesized that the future of automated vehicles would rely on “smart infrastructure” that would guide cars on roadways. One way to address the need for advanced infrastructure is by integrating beacons and other sensors into existing traffic equipment like road cones. This will allow self-driving cars to navigate safely while also alerting humans to dangerous surroundings. 

While their predictions are not too far off, we are seeing the future of self-driving cars evolving toward the direction of cars that can interpret and act based on their immediate environment. The future of smart cars relies upon the on-board technology of each car.

Current And Future Technologies

Our application of technology will change as we advance towards the reality of self-driving vehicles. Various techniques will be used to allow vehicles to understand their surrounding environment in a dynamic driving environment, and the vehicle must be able to act in response to specific changes in their environment.

These vehicles require a broad range of technologies and infrastructures to operate properly. Each vehicle is required to continuously collect and interpret vast amounts of information. Every system of the car must work with the surrounding environment, and technological advancements must be made to ensure autonomous vehicles work within several contexts, including:

  1. Long-range radar
  2. LIDAR (laser scan)
  3. Cameras
  4. Short/medium-range radar
  5. Ultrasound

These technologies will be used in different capacities based on a particular need of the vehicle. This technology also has to work with signals made for humans like safety cones, so automakers need to consider robots and humans at the same time. 

For example, Cameras will receive visual information to help the car’s software determine traffic signals and cross traffic warning. Ultrasound will be used to inform about the immediate environment for parking assistance.

Each of these technologies will collect different information for the vehicle, and based on the information collected the car will make interpretations and make the appropriate response for that situation.

Classifications of Automated Vehicles

As technology advances, our roads are being shared with automated vehicles that utilize a varying degree of technologies and applications. Different technologies allow for a wide range automation for vehicles.

These levels of automation describe various elements and capabilities of the vehicles as they pertain to driving automation. The five levels of automated vehicles represent capabilities and options for drivers. These standards include:

No Automation

Requires driver input at all times. This type of vehicle the driver to perform all aspects of driving, and is the most common type of vehicle seen on the road today. Think of these as “dumb cars” because the vehicle provide no assistance to drivers.

Driver Assistance

Vehicles that provide some driving mode-specific tasks by the car like steering or acceleration/deceleration assistance. Drivers are required to perform all active driving duties, but automation technology exists to help with warnings and alerts. This is the last level of automation technology that many US states consider a vehicle to be “non-automated.”

Partial Automation

Similar to Driver Assistance technologies, these cars use information in their driving environment to assist drivers in limited real-time conditions.  These cars use information in their immediate surroundings to help the driver with some dynamic driving tasks, but still require the driver to perform all necessary reactions. This is the first level of automated vehicle technology that many US states begin to consider a vehicle to be “automated.”

Conditional Automation

At this level, the vehicle starts to monitor the driving environment, and specific performance modes allow the car to make decisions based on current conditions. The driver can intervene when appropriate, but the vehicle is able to take action based on minor driving conditions.

High Automation

An Hgh Automated driving system allows the vehicle to take action in all aspects of a dynamic driving task even without the response of the driver.

Full Automation

This is the ultimate level of automation for a vehicle because at this level the car is equipped with technologies that allow it to respond under all roadway and environmental conditions. This level of automation vehicles does not require the presence or input of a human driver.

Each level of automation requires different on-board technologies to collect and interpret different information so the vehicle can take appropriate actions.

Since vehicle automation at level 3 and beyond are considered by many states as automated vehicles, there are stringent requirements that must be met for automation. Among the factors that must be fulfilled for vehicles at level 3 and beyond to operate on public roads include:

  • Vehicle connectivity to other vehicles and infrastructure.
  • Data transmission must be at specific frequencies and have low-latency connectivity.
  • Information must meet specific requirements for security.
  • There must be fail-safe protocols to ensure the safety of human occupants.

Technology Application For Vehicles

As we have seen, there are varying levels of automation for vehicles that drive on public roads. Using various sensors and technologies to collect information, an autonomous vehicle is able to assist the driver with a range of driving-related tasks.

Each manufacturer specializes in one or more specific applications of vehicle automation. To varying degrees you can see some level of automation in many of the new vehicles produced today, and the level of integration will surely increase with incremental advancements of technologies and applications.

Here are a few of the most popular applications of vehicle automation seen in the current market and near-future releases.

Automated Park Assist Technology

First created developed by Toyota; this technology allows the car to steer itself automatically while parallel parking.

The system assists the driver by automatically performing optimum steering movements and approach. Parallel parking can be difficult in larger cities with tight parking spots, but Parking Assist technology helps drivers fit into tight spots that they may not be able to take on their own.

Many vehicles that have Parking Assist technology require drivers to operate the accelerator and the brake. This means the driver has full control of the vehicle at all time.

However, recent advancements in this technology came from Ford when they enabled drivers to control park assist technology from outside the vehicle.

Adaptive Cruise Control Technology

A cruise control system with automatic distance control (ACC) uses long-range radar and laser systems to measure the distance and speed of other cars in their environment. With this technology, the driver sets their desired speed and time gap through controls on the car dashboard or steering wheel.

First implemented by Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota, and Subaru, vehicles using ACC have shown great success to maintain safe distances in controlled highway environments.

Integrated GPS systems help vehicles predict entrance and exit ramps along roads, while also assessing road conditions. Information gathered through GPS navigation, along with the long-range radar and laser systems allow vehicles to make autonomous decisions based on conditions and the environment surrounding it.

Automated Highway Driving Assistant

Toyota has to lead the way with self-driving vehicle operation on highways with their Automatic Highway Driving Assist (AHDA). This advanced driving support system collects information about surrounding environment and responds to changing traffic conditions.

The goal of this technology is to keep the car a safe distance from traffic, while also reducing the burden and fatigue of the driver.

Autonomous Highway Driving

Currently, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Volvo, BMW, and Audi are testing technologies to allow vehicles to take full control of certain conditions. While humans can take over control at any point, these vehicles will use sensors to navigate specific road conditions.

Vehicles that provide this level of driver-assistance technology are considered to be level 3, so the debate is ongoing in many states on the legality and implications of this type of technology on public roadways.

The Future Of Self-Driving Car Technology

As we reflect on the advancements of technology for automated driving cars over the past 50 years, we can be sure that we have not seen the end of this automobile revolution. During that time we have seen remarkable progress in the quest to reduce accidents and human fatigue with the use of automated driving vehicles.

While the future of autonomous vehicles is uncertain in the face of changing political and legal environments, we can be sure that automobile manufacturers will continue to implement advanced technologies as self-driving cars progress.

We look forward to watching as the future unfolds for automated vehicles!

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Author: Chris Giarratana

Chris is a Digital Media Strategy Consultant in Orlando, FL who specializes in developing marketing strategies for small businesses, researching emerging technologies, and enjoys studying transportation issues.

2 Comments

  1. Every system of the car must work with the surrounding environment, and technological advancements must be made to ensure autonomous vehicles work within cameras, ultrasound.The blog is written in a very clean manner which indicates the technological development in the future. Every persons is enthusiastic to build the dream of automated cars.

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