Autonomous Vehicles: What You Should Know

Future of Industry

The year is 2032. You’ve just booked a cab using your smartphone. In just a couple of minutes, a swanky sedan noiselessly pulls up next to you. The door automatically opens. You enter the car and it requests you to wear the seatbelt. You aren’t surprised by the empty driver’s seat – in fact, you are used to driverless cabs. A large screen in front of you displays the ETA, the route that will be taken to your destination, and real-time traffic information. As you look out the window, you notice a car take off from the highway and into the sky.

Given that driverless cars are already a reality, the above scenario does not seem far-fetched at all.

Here’s what we’ll look at today

  • Autonomous vehicles are capable of interpreting their surroundings and commute on their own.
  • As of today, most autonomous vehicles require a human driver to take control of the vehicle whenever required.
  • The global autonomous vehicle market is expected to touch USD 556 billion by 2026.

What is an autonomous vehicle?

Autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars are automobiles that are capable of commuting on their own, based on inputs from the surrounding environment and without human interaction. Although the concept has been around for more than a hundred years, it has become very popular of late – given that companies such as Google, Tesla are in on it. Toyota too is developing autonomous vehicles with self-driving capabilities (as are some other auto companies).

Also, autonomous vehicles are set to gain more popularity through their possible applications in the defense and commercial transportation sectors. They have been receiving an active push from automotive makers that are looking to promote driverless in a bid to showcase their organization’s technological advancements. The best example, of course, is Elon Musk, the founder of automaker Tesla, who has been actively involved in developing autonomous vehicles including cars and rockets, which are also sustainable.

Any technological advancement is generally tested by the military first in order to improve the defense sector. By being able to commandeer a vehicle remotely could mean that bigger vehicles can be used to control and regulate attacks on military bases as well as civilian areas.
Autonomous vehicle technology also has the potential to become a game-changer for commercial transportation. Certain countries in the world do not allow a driver to drive for many hours at a stretch, leading to delayed delivery times. If self-driving vehicles were to be used commercially, the trucks could be on the road for long periods of time, without breaks, and have high delivery rates.

It’s important, however, to note that autonomous vehicles are not fully autonomous yet. The autonomy in vehicles is classified into six levels with 0 having the least automation and 5 having full autonomy that requires zero human interference. Some of the features can be automated but are recommended to be used only if a human driver can take control at any moment.

The current technology can be said to assist the driver by scanning the environment at all times and improving the safety of a vehicle rather than being an entirely autonomous entity. This has been reiterated time and again by employees of organizations that manufacture autonomous vehicles at present.

The Use of Computing in Autonomous Vehicles

When we talk about autonomous vehicles, it is impossible to ignore computing and the role that computer scientists play in its development. Some of the technologies that help to improve autonomous vehicle technology are discussed here.

  • Artificial intelligence – The underlying technology in autonomous vehicles is artificial intelligence.
  • Multi-agent systemsOne of the important areas in AI research, multi-agent systems are made up of multiple agents capable of making decisions based on their interactions with the environment. Applications of multi-agent systems include autonomous vehicle technology, robotics, aircraft maintenance, military logistics, and supply chain among others.
  • Edge Computing – Edge computing is a type of distributed computing where data and computation is stored and processed at the same place where it is generated. It simply means that the computation time required is greatly reduced from that of other distributed computing technologies (for example, cloud computing). It allows devices to make decisions instantaneously and with a higher rate of performance. Therefore, if an autonomous device were to require immediate braking, the system wouldn’t have to wait for the data to be sent across to a common server but rather send it to the “edge” which will process the information quicker! Savvy? Edge computing is used for data management, communication, improved performance, and IoT integration.

The challenges in the autonomous vehicles sector come in many forms with the foremost being the lack of trust the people have in the technology. With higher levels of automation becoming a part of vehicles, humans may begin to have lesser control over the latter.
The integration of software with the vehicle is also a major point of concern due to the sheer number of sensors required for an autonomous vehicle. The autonomous vehicles of today cannot predict the behavior of other drivers and cars. Humans are capable of reading even the tiniest of patterns and anticipate certain actions but the machines may fail to do so.

As long as all vehicles on the roads become autonomous, it is quite impossible to imagine an autonomous vehicle navigating on its own without a human driver. However, this does not mean that full autonomous level 5 vehicles will not run on our roads. It just means that like all good things, this might take some time too!

Roles in the autonomous vehicle sector

With the autonomous vehicle sector expected to face a boom in the coming years, it would be very helpful to understand the different roles that are available. Some of them are discussed here.

  • Self-driving car engineer A self-driving car engineer ensures that the software developed is of very high quality. They are also responsible for testing the systems, integrating the software, and maintaining consistency in the architecture.
  • MechatronicsOne of the popular streams in engineering is mechatronics. It brings together computer science, robotics, and mechanical engineering together. Studying mechatronics is one of the ways in which one can become a self-driving car engineer.
  • Automotive design They are responsible for designing vehicles aesthetically as well as aerodynamically. People who are creative or artistic have a great advantage when it comes to designing cars. Automotive designers create 3D models to better portray their creations.
  • System Engineer – The System Engineers are responsible for understanding and adhering to the requirements, architecture design and ensuring the safety and quality of the automotive systems.
  • Deep Learning Engineer – Deep learning engineers are responsible for developing algorithms, design systems, and training machines using large amounts of data.

One can also improve the required skills by

  • Learning how to code in python, C++, Java, Matlab
  • Understanding how machine learning/ deep learning works
  • Improving their mathematical capabilities
  • Learning image processing.

Organizations that are working on autonomous vehicles

Listed below are some of the top organizations in the world that are working on the development of autonomous vehicles.
Waymo – An independent company under Alphabet Inc, Waymo has been an early leader in driverless technology. With Alphabet having access to a large amount of data, Waymo has the capacity to emerge as the winner of the automated vehicle technology race. They have completed over 20 million miles of test runs.

General Motors – General Motors (GM) boasts of an incredibly efficient large-scale auto manufacturing expertise. Combine that with a strong footing in the electric vehicle sector and a solid amount of investment and we have a sure-shot way to take GM to the top of the autonomous vehicle sector. They have completed close to 500,000 miles of test runs.

Tesla – Synonymous with smart electric cars, Tesla has been working on developing a fleet of autonomous vehicles. Tesla’s electric cars have already taken the world by storm. Their recently developed chips are able to handle massive amounts of data very quickly, thereby allowing cars to perform more complex processes.

Toyota – As part of its city of the future project called “Woven City”, Toyota has been working on designing and developing autonomous vehicles. Woven City is being built from the ground up and will have sensor-laden pathways that are capable of channelling large amounts of data to support the vehicles.

BMW – In 2016, BMW partnered with Intel and Mobileye to design and develop autonomous vehicles. Recently, it was announced that BMW has been gearing up to introduce level 3 autonomous vehicles in the US.

Uber – Uber has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles since 2015. It has been known to have been spending around USD 20 million a month on the research and development of autonomous vehicles. Recently, Uber’s advanced technologies group (ATG), which was responsible for developing the technology, was bought by Aurora Innovation.

Some of the other companies that develop autonomous vehicle technology include Arity, Cruise, Swift Navigation, Cloudmade and Deepscale among others.

What's in store?

Although some say that autonomous cars won’t be available in the next few years, others have different opinions. James Peng, the CEO of, opines that fully autonomous vehicles will ply on the roads within the next five years.

Currently, the autonomous vehicle sector may still be in the nascent stage as most vehicles are capable of assisting the driver rather than act as an entirely autonomous vehicle. Researchers are working on improving the safety standards of such vehicles by redesigning the perception systems that help autonomous vehicles to act on their own. With the number of test runs being carried out, it is safe to say that autonomous vehicles are within arms reach.

More and more awareness programs on global warming and the issues that lead to it are being promoted and people are beginning to make a conscious and informed decision regarding the type of vehicles they choose. Since most autonomous vehicles are expected to be electric, these vehicles will surely have a lot of takers in the future. Companies like Ford and Volvo have also joined the bandwagon and are set to offer fully automated cars in the future. Another reason why autonomous vehicles might become popular is because of the sheer number of accidents that happen due to human error. This can be drastically reduced by intelligent systems that can detect and prevent mishaps.

With the global autonomous vehicle market expected to touch USD 556 billion by 2026, the sector is sure to throw up a lot of opportunities in the near future.

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