Tesla Motors bought the self-driving car to the mainstream, but they admit that it is a work in progress, and updates are being shipped.
Even then, those cars aren’t entirely autonomous and require some input from the driver.
How far is the auto industry off from the total self-driving car?
What are the technologies that enable a car to drive itself?
This article will be taking a look at that and will also talk about where this technology can go in the future.
The Self-driving cars that we have today are only capable of partially driving on their own. However, these cars have a lot of potential in the future, and research is currently being done to make them more autonomous.
Read on to discover what technology goes into a self-driving car and how much it would cost to own one for yourself.
What is a Self-Driving Car?
A self-driving car drives by itself, either entirely by itself or with some input from the driver.
The latter is the case for most self-driving cars that you can get right now, requiring drivers to place both hands on the wheel for the car to drive itself.
They are also known as driverless cars and use sensors and special cameras to see their surroundings and drive along the road.
Self-driving vehicles, including trucks, have enormous potential to revolutionize the transportation and automotive industry when the technology matures enough to get mainstream approval.
There aren’t any completely autonomous vehicles out on the road right now because companies are still working out the kinks and the challenges self-driving cars bring.
It needs to be as good or even better than a human driver to drive on its own.
Automated Driving Levels of Self-Driving Cars
Since self-driving tech is still under development, the NHTSA has classified the types of self-driving cars depending on how autonomous they are.
The cars are divided into six levels of autonomy, Levels 0 through 5.
These are your regular vehicles that cannot drive by themselves in any way.
This includes all vehicles that don’t have any cruise control features as well.
Vehicles at this level assist the driver in either braking or steering.
They cannot do both, and the driver has to choose what type of control they want when driving the vehicle.
Any car that has adaptive cruise control is at Level 1.
Most of the self-driving cars that you can get today are level 2, including the Tesla cars with Autopilot.
The car can take care of steering and braking, but the driver’s full attention should be on the road at all times.
If the vehicle’s self-driving system has issues, the driver has to take over, but these cars perform well in most cases, especially on highways.
Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s SuperCruise equipped cars fall under level 2.
With Level 3 vehicles, you can take your eyes off the road and don’t need to be aware of your surroundings like you would with the previous levels of automation.
This does not mean you won’t need to take control over quickly, but the chances of that happening go down a bunch with a Level 3 vehicle.
Currently, only the Audi A8 offers level 3 self-driving, but the option is not available in the US for regulatory reasons.
With Level 4 vehicles, the driver doesn’t need to intervene in any situation.
This means that the vehicle can avoid obstacles and save its passengers from a crash on its own.
The driver is still given the choice of taking over the controls if they want to, of course.
Currently, Level 4 vehicles are limited to a few small areas, usually urban centers, because of legislation and regulatory concerns.
The top speed they can go is 30 mph, which is the regular speed limit in most urban areas.
Ride-sharing companies like Waymo operate most Level 4 cars that we have now because of these regulatory reasons.
Level 5 vehicles are entirely automated, require no driver input, and therefore don’t even have a steering wheel.
Thanks to AI and self-driving technology powered by a suite of sensors, these vehicles will be better than the average human driver.
These vehicles are still undergoing testing, though, but its still one to look out for when it finally becomes available to everyone.
The Technology Behind Self-Driving Cars
For a self-driving car to drive itself, it needs to know what the area around it looks like.
It needs to see other cars, bushes, road signs, the sidewalk, and most importantly, pedestrians.
Most self-driving cars accomplish this with the help of many sensors, cameras, radar systems, and even ultrasonic transmitters to use the information they provide to build a 3D space.
The self-driving system uses this information and controls where the car is going and how quickly.
For example, Tesla’s Model 3 that has the Autopilot feature, uses 8 cameras for a 360-degree view around the car.
At the same time, ultrasonic sensors and a front-facing radar let it see and avoid obstacles.
A technology that has future scope is integrating internet features like software updates and communication with other cars on the road.
Tesla already has their cars connected to the internet, but it is only used to download software updates for the car.
Developing this avenue of communication has a lot of potential, but it shouldn’t take the driver’s attention away from the road.
As this technology matures, we might even see vehicles warning people to move out of the way through their smartphones.
Self-Driving Cars Today: What is their Level of Autonomy?
The self-driving cars that we have today are pretty limited in driving on their own.
This results from the technology not being mature enough and legislation still playing safe with the concept of letting a computer do the driving.
Most cars today are Level 2 in autonomy and can drive on their own on the highway or city streets.
The driver will need to take control in any emergencies but is also left to control any time he wishes.
Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise are the mainstream examples of a Level 2 self-driving system.
Tesla Autopilot is the poster child of self-driving, not just because of their cars’ brand exposure, but it is a well-designed system by itself.
Autopilot comes standard on every new Tesla car, which they keep updated with over-the-air software updates.
The front of the Autopilot system has two cameras, one that’s narrower and covers 250m (820 ft) and a primary camera that covers 150m (492 ft).
The sides are taken care of by ultrasonic sensors with 8m (26 ft) of range and two forward-facing side cameras on either side that covers 80m (260 ft).
The rear has three cameras, with a rearview camera with a range of 50m (162 ft) and two rearward-looking side cameras with a 100m (328 ft) range.
All these cameras and sensors allow the car to have traffic-aware cruise control where it sees the traffic around itself and cruises at the speeds the other cars are going at.
Tesla offers this feature and Autosteer as part of their basic Autopilot option, but you also have the option of going for Full Self-Driving Capability, which has features like Automatic Lane Change, Automatic Parking, and Summon.
The capabilities of these features are constantly being worked on, and the most stable and tested version will be pushed to every car as part of their software update cycles.
How Much Does a Self-Driving Car Cost?
The only commercially available self-driving cars are Level 2 autonomous, including all cars from Tesla and cars from GM and Ford with their Super Cruise and Blue Cruise technology.
A Tesla car would cost anywhere from around $45,000 to up to $105,000, depending on what model and the options you choose.
If you choose to go for a high-performance version of the Tesla with Full Self-Driving, it can go over $105,000 as well.
However, Ford’s BlueCruise only works on some highways and is only available on the 2021 F-150 ($74,335) and the 2021 Mustang Mach-E ($43,895).
GM SuperCruise is available on quite a few Cadillac and other GMC models as an addon, so you’ll need to contact your local dealer for exact prices.
Advantages of a Self-Driving Car
Even though the idea of self-driving vehicles sounds out of the norm at first, they bring a lot of good for transportation and how we move around.
NHTSA studies have shown that 94% of all fatal car crashes were due to human error, and self-driving cars aim to remove the human element.
The risk of dangerous driving and behavior can be avoided when driving gets completely automated.
People who can’t drive benefit extensively from cars that drive themselves, like the elderly or disabled.
The ride-sharing aspects also come into the picture, reducing the number of cars on the road.
As higher levels of autonomy are achieved, people can make the most of their time in traffic.
They can get their work done or take their mind off things by listening to an audiobook while the car drives them to their destination.
Automation and ride-sharing can make driving more fuel-efficient, and since a computer controls the car, it’ll know how much fuel it needs and conserve it for situations where it needs fuel.
Disadvantages of a Self-Driving Car
The high initial cost of a self-driving car is a massive barrier to people adopting this technology.
As the competition gets better, self-driving cars will be priced down, and better and newer computing methods will help reduce the hardware requirement and reduce the car’s costs.
Another big downside is the safety aspect of a self-driving car.
All software is prone to bugs, and for such an essential task as driving, a small mistake can prove fatal.
Most self-driving cars today still need intervention from the driver, so the human element isn’t eliminated either.
Sleeping in a Self-Driving Car
There have been viral videos and news reports of people taking the Zs in a self-driving car.
Although this might look like something you should do, it is hazardous.
The cars we have now cannot react to emergencies and rely on us to react.
If the driver is asleep at the wheel, this isn’t possible and might result in a fatal car crash that could not only kill or maim the driver but other road users as well.
Do not sleep while you are at the wheel of a self-driving car because the tech that they use still needs you at the wheel.
Tesla tries to get around this issue by making you place your hands on the steering wheel to make sure that you’re paying attention.
But irresponsible people still find ways around these safety measures but realize that nothing good can come from them.
Self-Driving Cars and Safety
Self-driving cars can reduce the chances of drunk driving incidents or crashes because the driver no longer needs to drive when under the influence of substances.
As we climb up through the levels of autonomy, these cars will be better than humans at reacting to incidents on the road.
Even though the cars we have today bring out concerns in safety, when the technology matures, it has the serious possibility to replace manual driving.
Once the most significant factor of accidents, human error, is removed from the equation, the safety that self-driving cars bring to our roads is undoubtable.
When will Self-Driving Cars Become Commonplace?
For technology to develop, there needs to be funding in the right places, and as soon as investors see that self-driving cars are the next new thing, the financial backing for the technology will grow.
Tesla is at the forefront of the self-driving revolution, with most self-driving cars on the road today being a Tesla.
The biggest winner when self-driving becomes mainstream would be public transport.
Service providers would no longer have to employ drivers and ticket users with contactless payment methods.
This can cut costs in a sector struggling in the US right now.
Self-driving has lots of room for growth, and Tesla is just the tip of the iceberg.
We might see fully self-driving cars that don’t need humans to take over become commonplace by 2050.
The Self-Driving Revolution
The most significant jump-start to the self-driving revolution can happen with the help of good regulatory practices and laws that aim to develop the technology while not forgetting the safety implications it might bring.
Since driving can turn hazardous quickly, strong oversight is required for the technology to develop in ways that benefit us, the users.
Research also needs to happen along that route, only if funding agencies know the technology is worth investing in.
The self-driving revolution isn’t that far away because history has shown that its inevitable that humans automate something they do every day.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can you sleep with Tesla Autopilot?
You shouldn’t sleep while putting a Tesla on Autopilot because the system still needs someone attentive at the wheel to take over if the car runs into an emergency.
It is a grey area that needs to be addressed, but at this moment, you shouldn’t be sleeping at the wheel of a Tesla on Autopilot.
Do Tesla’s pullover for cops?
Teslas can’t pull over for cops; you’ll have to take control and do so.
Cops have tried and successfully stopped a Tesla car on Autopilot where the driver was unconscious back in 2018.
Can you be drunk in a self-driving car?
Even if you’re in a self-driving car that’s currently driving itself, you can still be pulled over and charged for DUI.
Self-driving cars today need someone attentive at the wheel, so being drunk or under the influence of substances does not qualify.
Do Teslas need oil?
Teslas, or any electric cars, don’t need oil changes or other kinds of work you’d expect to see in a gas car.