A glimpse at self-driving car technology

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A definition of what it means for a vehicle to be autonomous tells us it should be capable of “measure its environment and navigate without human instructions”. Nowadays, it is not strange to think of this type of vehicles since they are commercialized, at least to some extent, with this capacity.

According to a report from The Business Insider, it is estimated that for the year 2020, there would be at least 10 millions autonomous vehicles on roads and streets around the globe.This technology is not just a comfortable and safe way of moving, it also promises to revolutionize the concept of urban transport as we know it. 

Companies like Uber and Waymo (from Alphabet group), are in the race to lead the market, aiming to put autonomous vehicles available to users, in a new way of carpooling, safer and more private, transforming the fixed cost of owning a car, to a variable cost, with all that this implies. 

Even though the technology required for this type of vehicle has been in development for a long time, it was only in recent years that it has developed to the point of allowing the mass production of these vehicles. While Google has been developing car technology without a driver for more than a decade, General Motors, Ford, Apple, Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes are some of the brand that recently joined to compete in this new market which, as suggested by the Boston Consulting Group’s “Autonomous Vehicle Adoption Study“, could exceed $ 77 billion by 2035.

One of the main milestones of recent times in this subject is the prevalence of the approach based on machine learning that tries to imitate the human behavior through cameras, above the robotic approach, which uses complex laser sensors and extensive route and navigation data. This approach has in particular, simplified the efforts and reduced entry barriers for technology in today’s streets.

For example, all of Tesla vehicles produced nowadays have the necessary hardware for a completely autonomous functioning, with high security levels (SAE level 5) and software operating in a passive way, recollecting data, which takes the concept beyond the Autopilot function.

Furthermore, it has been observed in recent years, how many of the vehicles capable of navigating by themselves have reached the market. One can only recall the aforementioned case of Tesla vehicles, the first pilot tests of the autonomous vehicles of Uber in Pittsburgh or the initiative for the development of an autonomous open source vehicle by Udacity.

A world with vehicles that do not need a driver is not far from being real. But to get to that there is a need to penetrate other factors first, that go beyond the technology that puts these vehicles in motion, for example, regulations, road safety, infrastructure, mass or transportation costs, among other aspects.