An autonomous vehicle, or a driverless vehicle, is one that is able to operate itself and perform necessary functions without any human intervention, through ability to sense its surroundings.
An autonomous vehicle utilises a fully automated driving system in order to allow the vehicle to respond to external conditions that a human driver would manage. There are six different levels of automation and, as the levels increase, the extent of the driverless car’s independence regarding operation control increases.
At level 0, the car has no control over its operation and the human driver does all of the driving.
At level 1, the vehicle’s ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) has the ability to support the driver with either steering or accelerating and braking.
At level 2, the ADAS can oversee steering and accelerating and braking in some conditions, although the human driver is required to continue paying complete attention to the driving environment throughout the journey, while also performing the remainder of the necessary tasks.
At level 3, the ADS (advanced driving system) can perform all parts of the driving task in some conditions, but the human driver is required to be able to regain control when requested to do so by the ADS. In the remaining conditions, the human driver executes the necessary tasks.
At level 4, the vehicle’s ADS is able to perform all driving tasks independently in certain conditions in which human attention is not required.
Finally, level 5 involves full automation whereby the vehicle’s ADS is able to perform all tasks in all conditions, and no driving assistance is required from the human driver. This full automation will be enabled by the application of 5G technology, which will allow vehicles to communicate not just with one another, but also with traffic lights, signage and even the roads themselves.
One of the aspects of the vehicle technology used in automated vehicles is ACC, or adaptive cruise control. This system is able to adjust the vehicle’s speed automatically to ensure that it maintains a safe distance from the vehicles in front of it. This function relies on information obtained using sensors on the vehicle and allows the car to perform tasks such as brake when it senses that it is approaching any vehicles ahead. This information is then processed and the appropriate instructions are sent to actuators in the vehicle, which control the responsive actions of the car such as steering, acceleration and braking. Highly automated vehicles with fully automated speed control are able to respond to signals from traffic lights and other such non-vehicular activities.
Autonomous vehicles may be able to provide certain advantages compared to human-driven vehicles. One such potential advantage is that they could provide increased safety on the road – vehicle crashes cause many deaths every year, and automated vehicles could potentially decrease the number of casualties as the software used in them is likely to make fewer errors in comparison to humans. A decrease in the number of accidents could also reduce traffic congestion, which is a further potential advantage posed by autonomous vehicles. Autonomous driving can also achieve this by the removal of human behaviours that cause blockages on the road, specifically stop-and-go traffic.
Another possible advantage of automated driving is that people who are not able to drive – due to factors like age and disabilities – could be able to use automated cars as more convenient transport systems.
Additional advantages that come with an autonomous car are elimination of driving fatigue and being able to sleep during overnight journeys.