What is Autonomous Vehicle Technology?

Author: Jake Herington

The driverless car has been a staple of science fiction for decades, capturing our imagination as early as the 80’s with the iconic TV series Knight Rider, and more recently in the Transformers movies. Science fiction, however, is quickly becoming science fact. We can expect to see driverless cars commonly on our roads as early as 2020, and the global market for autonomous vehicle will skyrocket as a result, predicted to reach $42 Billion by 2025 and $7 Trillion by 2050.

Autonomous Vehicle Technology (AVT) is very likely to have a significant impact on your life, so over this new blog series, we are going to explore the technology behind these vehicles. This first blog will be an overview of the technology and over the series, we will go into more detail on some of the concepts covered here.

What is it?

AVT uses a series of integrated guidance, navigation and control systems to move a vehicle from one to point to another. To do this the vehicle relies on many different sensors to perceive the world around it including, laser sensors, Inertial Measurement Units (IMU͛s), radars, encoders, and cameras. The computer system then takes the information from these sensors and performs a number of calculations to determine a suitable path for the vehicle to take to achieve autonomous functionality. AVT͛s have varying levels of sophistication, ranging from no or partial automation to full automation. These levels of autonomy help determine what tasks the vehicle can perform and are based on how much human intervention is needed to fulfil a certain objectives.

The AVT industry has standardised these levels of autonomy (0-5) which are briefly described below.

  1. Level 0

    No Automation: A human performs the entirety of the task.

  2. Level 1

    Assisted Automation: The autonomous system controls either the lateral or longitudinal direction with a human performing the remainder of the task.

  3. Level 2

    Partial Automation: The autonomous systems controls both lateral and longitudinal direction with a human performing object detection and response as well as overall supervision.

  4. Level 3

    Conditional Automation: The autonomous system can perform entirety of the task provided that human intervention is available as a fall-back mechanism in case of system failure.

  5. Level 4

    High Automation: While the autonomous system is engaged, no human intervention is required.

  6. Level 5

    Full Automation: Human intervention is never required.

What can we use AVT for?

The most obvious and widely referred to example of AVT is the driverless car. Autonomous trucks are already being used in the mining industry as well as for delivery and freight services. Autonomous buses are also being trailed for community transport services with great success. It͛s not hard to imagine almost everyone using driverless vehicles in the not too distant future.

There are however many other applications for this technology that might not be so obvious. For example, autonomous lawnmowers are widely being integrated into council lawn maintenance projects, freeing up time and money for these organisations to focus on higher priority tasks. The technology also has potential in the surveying and parcel delivery industries, provided that the technology becomes more sophisticated and affordable.

Autonomous vehicle technology and other robotic technologies are becoming an integral part of the ͚Smart City͛ concept. Using Internet services; systems, robots and devices can be connected to form a network where data is shared between them in real time. Imagine a city where every bus ran perfectly on time, or if you could access any community service with ease from your phone. This is where AVT and others like it are leading us.

Keep your eyes peeled for our next post, where will cover how AVT’s work, going into more depth about guidance, navigation and control systems and the different approaches used to develop them.

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