Autonomous car

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For the wider application of artificial intelligence to automobiles, see Vehicular automation.
Junior, a robotic Volkswagen Passat, at Stanford University in October 2009.

An autonomous car,[1] also known as a driverless car,[2] driver-free car,[3] self-driving car,[4] or robot car[5] is an autonomous vehicle capable of fulfilling the transportation capabilities of a traditional car. As an autonomous vehicle, it is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Robotic cars exist mainly as prototypes and demonstration systems. As of 2014, the only self-driving vehicles that are commercially available are open-air shuttles for pedestrian zones that operate at 12.5 miles per hour (20.1 km/h).[6]

Autonomous vehicles sense their surroundings with such techniques as radar, lidar, GPS, and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage.[7] Some autonomous vehicles update their maps based on sensory input, allowing the vehicles to keep track of their position even when conditions change or when they enter uncharted environments.

Some quasi-autonomous demonstration systems date back to the 1920s and the 1930s.[8] Since the 1980s, when Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich built a driverless car through the EUREKA Prometheus Project,[9] significant advances have been made in both technology and legislation relevant to autonomous cars. Numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles, including Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Continental Automotive Systems, Autoliv Inc., Bosch, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, Volvo, Vislab from University of Parma, Oxford University and Google.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] In July 2013 Vislab worldpremiered BRAiVE, a vehicle that moved autonomously on a mixed traffic route open to public traffic.[18] As of 2013, four U.S. states have passed laws permitting autonomous cars: Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan.[19][20][21][22][23] In Europe, cities in Belgium, France, Italy and the UK are planning to operate transport systems for driverless cars,[24][25][26] and Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain have allowed testing robotic cars in traffic.


The term "autonomous" is not a generally accepted term in science when used to describe technical artifacts. For example Wood et al. (2012), see reference below, writes "This Article generally uses the term “autonomous,” instead of the term “automated.” We have chosen to use the term “autonomous” because it is the term that is currently in more widespread use (and thus is more familiar to the general public). However, the latter term is arguably more accurate. “Automated” connotes control or operation by a machine, while “autonomous” connotes acting alone or independently. Most of the vehicle concepts (that we are currently aware of) have a person in the driver’s seat, utilize a communication connection to the Cloud or other vehicles, and do not independently select either destinations or routes for reaching them. Thus, the term “automated” would more accurately describe these vehicle concepts".[27]

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system:[28]

Potential advantages[edit]

An increase in the use of autonomous cars would make possible such benefits as:

Potential obstacles[edit]

In spite of the various benefits to increased vehicle automation, some foreseeable challenges persist:


This M-1 vehicle detector was used at the first automatic driving demonstration in the United States, which took place in Lincoln in 1957.
A street intersection in the City of the Future; detail of the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair
Inspired by the efforts, the electric utility company, Central Power and Light Company, launched an advertorial that was posted on many leading newspapers throughout 1956 and 1957 and predicted autonomous cars: ELECTRICITY MAY BE THE DRIVER. One day your car may speed along an electric super-highway, its speed and steering automatically controlled by electronic devices embedded in the road. Highways will be made safe – by electricity! No traffic jams ... no collisions ... no driver fatigue[57]
General Motors' Firebird III on display at the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, 1962.


In 1925, Houdina Radio Control demonstrated the radio-controlled driverless car "linrrican Wonder" at New York City streets, traveling up Broadway and down Fifth Avenue through the thick of the traffic jam. The linrrican Wonder was a 1926 Chandler that was equipped with a transmitting antennae on the tonneau and was operated by a second car that followed it and sent out radio impulses which were caught by the transmitting antennae. The antennae introduced the signals to a circuit- breakers which operated small electric motors that directed every movement of the car. Achen Motor, a distributor of cars in Milwaukee and surrounding territory, used Francis' invention under the name "Phantom Auto" and demonstrated it in December 1926 at the streets of Milwaukee.[58] It was demonstrated again in June 1932 at the streets of Fredericksburg as a feature attraction of Bigger Bargain Day in which most of the merchants of the city were participating.[59]


An early representation of the autonomous car was Norman Bel Geddes's Futurama exhibit sponsored by General Motors at the 1939 World's Fair, which depicted electric cars powered by circuits embedded in the roadway and controlled by radio.[8]


In 1953, RCA Labs successfully built a miniature car that was guided and contolled by wires that were laid in a pattern on a laboratory floor. The system sparked the imagination of Leland M. Hancock, traffic engineer in the Nebraska Department of Roads, and of his director, L. N. Ress, state engineer. The decision was made to experiment with the system in actual highway installations. In 1958, a full size system was successfully demonstrated by RCA Labs and the State of Nebraska on a 400-foot strip of public highway just outside Lincoln, Neb. A series of experimental detector circuits buried in the pavement were a series of lights along the edge of the road. The detector circuits were able to send impulses to guide the car and determine the presence and velocity of any metallic vehicle on its surface. It was developed in collaboration with General Motors, who paired two standard models with equipment consisting of special radio receivers and audible and visual warning devices that were able to simulate automatic steering, accelerating and brake control. It was further demonstrated on 5 June 1960, at RCA Lab's headquarter in Princeton, New Jersey, where reporters were allowed to "drive" on the cars. Commercialization of the system was expected to happen by 1975.[60][61] Also during the 1950s throughout the 1960s, General Motors showcased the Firebirds, a series of experimental cars that were described to have an "electronic guide system can rush it over an automatic highway while the driver relaxes".


In 1960, Ohio State University's Communication and Control Systems Laboratory launched a project to develop driverless cars which were activated by electronic devices imbedded in the roadway. Head of the project, Dr. Robert L. Cosgriff, claimed in 1966 that the system could be ready for installation on a public road in 15 years.[62]

In the early 1960s, the Bureau of Public Roads considered the construction of an experimental electronically controlled highway. Four states - Ohio, Massachusetts, New York and California - were bidding for the construction.[63]

During the 1960s, the United Kingdom's Transport and Road Research Laboratory tested a driverless Citroen DS that interacted with magnetic cables that were embedded in the road. It went through a test track at 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) without deviation of speed or direction in any weather conditions, and in a far more effective way than by human control. Research continued in the '70s with cruise control devices activated by signals in the cabling beneath the tracks. According to cost benefit analyses that were made, adoption of system on the British motorways would been repaid by end of the century, increase the road capacity by at least 50% and prevent around 40% of the accidents. Funding for these experiments was withdrawn by the mid-1970s.[64][65][66]

Also during the 1960s and the 1970s, Bendix Corporation developed and tested autonomous cars that were powered and controlled by buried cables, with wayside communicators relaying computer messages.


In the 1980s, a vision-guided Mercedes-Benz robotic van, designed by Ernst Dickmanns and his team at the Bundeswehr University Munich in Munich, Germany, achieved a speed of 39 miles per hour (63 km/h) on streets without traffic.[9] Subsequently, EUREKA conducted the 749 million Prometheus Project on autonomous vehicles from 1987 to 1995.

In the same decade, the DARPA-funded Autonomous Land Vehicle (ALV) project in the United States made use of new technologies developed by the University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon University, the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan, Martin Marietta and SRI International. The ALV project achieved the first road-following demonstration that used lidar, computer vision and autonomous robotic control to direct a robotic vehicle at speeds of up to 19 miles per hour (31 km/h). In 1987, HRL Laboratories (formerly Hughes Research Labs) demonstrated the first off-road map and sensor-based autonomous navigation on the ALV. The vehicle traveled over 2,000 feet (610 m) at 1.9 miles per hour (3.1 km/h) on complex terrain with steep slopes, ravines, large rocks, and vegetation.


In 1991, the United States Congress passed the ISTEA Transportation Authorization bill, which instructed USDOT to "demonstrate an automated vehicle and highway system by 1997." The Federal Highway Administration took on this task, first with a series of Precursor Systems Analsyes and then by establishing the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC). This cost-shared project was led by FHWA and General Motors, with Caltrans, Delco, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Bechtel, UC-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and Lockheed Martin as additional partners. Extensive systems engineering work and research culminated in Demo '97 on I-15 in San Diego, California, in which about 20 automated vehicles, including cars, buses, and trucks, were demonstrated to thousands of onlookers, attracting extensive media coverage. The demonstrations involved close-headway platooning intended to operate in segregated traffic, as well as "free agent" vehicles intended to operate in mixed traffic. Other carmakers were invited to demonstrate their systems, such that Toyota and Honda also participated. While the subsequent aim was to produce a system design to aid commercialization, the program was cancelled in the late 1990s due to tightening research budgets at USDOT. Overall funding for the program was in the range of $90 million.[67]

In 1994, the twin robot vehicles VaMP and Vita-2 of Daimler-Benz and Ernst Dickmanns of UniBwM drove more than 620 miles (1,000 km) on a Paris three-lane highway in standard heavy traffic at speeds up to 81 miles per hour (130 km/h), albeit semi-autonomously with human interventions. They demonstrated autonomous driving in free lanes, convoy driving, and lane changes with autonomous passing of other cars.[citation needed] That same year, Lucas Industries developed parts for a semi-autonomous car in a project that was funded by Jaguar Cars, Lucas, and the UK Department of Trade and Industry.[68]

In 1995, Dickmanns' re-engineered autonomous S-Class Mercedes-Benz undertook a 990 miles (1,590 km) journey from Munich in Bavaria, Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark and back, using saccadic computer vision and transputers to react in real time. The robot achieved speeds exceeding 109 miles per hour (175 km/h) on the German Autobahn, with a mean time between human interventions of 5.6 miles (9.0 km), or 95% autonomous driving. It drove in traffic, executing manoeuvres to pass other cars. Despite being a research system without emphasis on long distance reliability, it drove up to 98 miles (158 km) without human intervention.[citation needed]

In 1995, the Carnegie Mellon University Navlab project achieved 98.2% autonomous driving on a 3,100 miles (5,000 km) cross-country journey which was dubbed "No Hands Across America". This car, however, was semi-autonomous by nature: it used neural networks to control the steering wheel, but throttle and brakes were human-controlled.[69]

In 1996, (now Professor) Alberto Broggi of the University of Parma launched the ARGO Project, which worked on enabling a modified Lancia Thema to follow the normal (painted) lane marks in an unmodified highway.[70] The culmination of the project was a journey of 1,200 miles (1,900 km) over six days on the motorways of northern Italy dubbed Mille Miglia in Automatico ("One thousand automatic miles"), with an average speed of 56 miles per hour (90 km/h). The car operated in fully automatic mode for 94% of its journey, with the longest automatic stretch being 34 miles (55 km). The vehicle had only two black-and-white low-cost video cameras on board and used stereoscopic vision algorithms to understand its environment.


The US Government funded three military efforts known as Demo I (US Army), Demo II (DARPA), and Demo III (US Army). Demo III (2001)[71] demonstrated the ability of unmanned ground vehicles to navigate miles of difficult off-road terrain, avoiding obstacles such as rocks and trees. James Albus at the National Institute for Standards and Technology provided the Real-Time Control System which is a hierarchical control system. Not only were individual vehicles controlled (e.g. throttle, steering, and brake), but groups of vehicles had their movements automatically coordinated in response to high level goals.

The ParkShuttle, a driverless public road transport system, became operational in the Netherlands in the early 2000s.[72] In January 2006, the United Kingdom's 'Foresight' think-tank revealed a report which predicts RFID-tagged driverless cars on UK's roads by 2056 and the Royal Academy of Engineering claimed that driverless trucks could be on Britain's motorways by 2019.[73][74]

Autonomous vehicles have also been used in mining. Since December 2008, Rio Tinto Alcan has been testing the Komatsu Autonomous Haulage System – the world's first commercial autonomous mining haulage system – in the Pilbara iron ore mine in Western Australia. Rio Tinto has reported benefits in health, safety, and productivity. In November 2011, Rio Tinto signed a deal to greatly expand its fleet of driverless trucks.[75] Other autonomous mining systems include Sandvik Automine's underground loaders and Caterpillar Inc.'s autonomous hauling.


Many major automotive manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Volvo, are testing driverless car systems as of 2013. BMW has been testing driverless systems since around 2005,[76][77] while in 2010, Audi sent a driverless Audi TTS to the top of Pike’s Peak at close to race speeds.[11] In 2011, GM created the EN-V (short for Electric Networked Vehicle), an autonomous electric urban vehicle.[78] In 2012, Volkswagen began testing a "Temporary Auto Pilot" (TAP) system that will allow a car to drive itself at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) on the highway.[79] Ford has conducted extensive research into driverless systems and vehicular communication systems.[80] In January 2013, Toyota demonstrated a partially self-driving car with numerous sensors and communication systems.[13] Other programs in the field include the 2GetThere passenger vehicles from the Netherlands and the DARPA Grand Challenge in the USA; some plans for bimodal public transport systems include autonomous cars as a component.[81]

In 2010, Italy's VisLab from the University of Parma, led by Professor Alberto Broggi, ran the VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge (VIAC), a 9,900-mile (15,900 km) test run which marked the first intercontinental land journey completed by autonomous vehicles. Four driverless electric vans successfully completed the 100-day journey, leaving Parma, Italy, on 20 July 2010, and arriving at the Shanghai Expo in China on 28 October. The research project is co-funded by the European Union CORDIS program.[82]

In 2013, on July 12, VisLab conducted another pioneering test of autonomous vehicles, during which a robotic vehicle drove in downtown Parma with no human control, successfully navigating roundabouts, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and other common hazards.[83]

In 2011, the Freie Universität Berlin developed two autonomous cars to drive in the innercity traffic of Berlin in Germany. Led by the AutoNOMOS group, the two vehicles Spirit of Berlin and MadeInGermany handled intercity traffic, traffic lights and roundabouts between International Congress Centrum and Brandenburg Gate. It was the first car licensed for autonomous driving on the streets and highways in Germany and financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.[84]

In August 2013, Daimler R&D with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology/FZI, made a Mercedes-Benz S-class vehicle with close-to-production stereo cameras[85] and radars drive completely autonomously for about 100 km from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany, following the historic Bertha Benz Memorial Route.[86][87]

Nissan autonomous prototype technology was fitted on a Nissan Leaf all-electric car.

In August 2013 Nissan announced its plans to launch several driverless cars by 2020. The company is building in Japan a dedicated autonomous driving proving ground, to be completed in 2014. Nissan installed its autonomous car technology in a Nissan Leaf all-electric car for demonstration purposes. The car was demonstrated at Nissan 360 test drive event held in California in August 2013.[88][89] In September 2013, the Leaf fitted the prototype Advanced Driver Assistance System was granted a license plate that allows to drive it on Japanese public roads. The testing car will be used by Nissan engineers to evaluate how its in-house autonomous driving software performs in the real world. Time spent on public roads will help refine the car’s software for fully automated driving.[90] The autonomous Leaf was demonstrated on public roads for the first time at a media event held in Japan in November 2013. The Leaf drove on the Sagami Expressway in Kanagawa prefecture, near Tokyo. Nissan vice chairman Toshiyuki Shiga and the prefecture’s Governor, Yuji Kuroiwa, rode in the car during the test.[91][92]

Available in 2013, the 2014 Mercedes S-Class has options for autonomous steering, lane keeping, acceleration/braking, parking, accident avoidance, and driver fatigue detection, in both city traffic and highway speeds of up to 124 miles (200 km) per hour.[93][94][95][96]

Released in 2013, the 2014 Infiniti Q50 uses cameras, radar and other technology to deliver various lane-keeping, collision avoidance and cruise control features. One reviewer remarked, "With the Q50 managing its own speed and adjusting course, I could sit back and simply watch, even on mildly curving highways, for three or more miles at a stretch," adding that he wasn't touching the steering wheel or pedals.[97]

Although as of 2013, fully autonomous vehicles are not yet available to the public, many contemporary car models have features offering limited autonomous functionality. These include adaptive cruise control, a system that monitors distances to adjacent vehicles in the same lane, adjusting the speed with the flow of traffic; lane assist, which monitors the vehicle's position in the lane, and either warns the driver when the vehicle is leaving its lane, or, less commonly, takes corrective actions; and parking assist, which assists the driver in the task of parallel parking.[98]

In January 2014, Induct Technology's Navia shuttle became the first self-driving vehicle to be available for commercial sale.[6] Limited to 12.5 miles per hour (20.1 km/h), the open-air electric vehicle resembles a golf cart and seats up to eight people. It is intended to shuttle people around "pedestrianized city centers, large industrial sites, airports, theme parks, university campuses or hospital complexes."[99]

On May 27, 2014, Google[100] announced plans to unveil 100 autonomous car prototypes built from scratch inside Google's secret X lab, as manifestations of years of work that began by modifying existing vehicles, along with, "in the next couple of years" according to Google in the above blog post, a pilot program similar to that which was used for the Cr-48 Chromebook back in 2010.

Official predictions[edit]

Major automobile manufacturers and technology companies have made numerous predictions for the development of autonomous car technology in the near future.


US States that allow driverless cars public road testing.

In the United States, state vehicle codes generally do not envisage — but do not necessarily prohibit — highly automated vehicles.[120] To clarify the legal status of and otherwise regulate such vehicles, several states have enacted or are considering specific laws.[121] As of the end of 2013, four U.S. states, (Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan), along with the District of Columbia, have successfully enacted laws addressing autonomous vehicles.

In June 2011, the Nevada Legislature passed a law to authorize the use of autonomous cars. Nevada thus became the first jurisdiction in the world where autonomous vehicles might be legally operated on public roads. The bill was signed into law by Nevada's Governor on 16 June 2011. According to the law, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (NDMV) is responsible for setting safety and performance standards and the agency is responsible for designating areas where autonomous cars may be tested.[20][21][122] The law went into effect on 1 March 2012.[123] This legislation was supported by Google in an effort to legally conduct further testing of its Google driverless car.[22]

A Toyota Prius modified by Google to operate as a driverless car.

The Nevada law defines an autonomous vehicle to be "a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator." The law also acknowledges that the operator will not need to pay attention while the car is operating itself. Google had further lobbied for an exemption from a ban on distracted driving to permit occupants to send text messages while sitting behind the wheel, but this did not become law.[22][124][125] Furthermore, Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests.[126]

In May 2012, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued the first license for a self-driven car to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology.[123] Google's autonomous system permits a human driver to take control of the vehicle at any time by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel. License plates issued in Nevada for autonomous cars will have a red background and feature an infinity symbol () on the left side, which, according to the DMV Director, "was the best way to represent the 'car of the future'."[126]

On 1 July 2012, Florida became the second state to recognize the legality of autonomous vehicles. Florida's law clarifies that, "the State does not prohibit or specifically regulate the testing or operation of autonomous … vehicles on public roads."[127]

On 25 September 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing the legalization of driverless cars in the state of California which also requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations by 2015.[128] In California, proposed legislation would require that "the driver would still need to sit behind the wheel in case the robotic functions of the car suddenly fail and a real driver is needed", thus limiting the benefits that autonomous cars could provide to unlicensed drivers.[129]

In the 2013–2014 legislative session, Colorado and Michigan introduced legislation addressing the regulation of autonomous vehicles. Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation allowing the testing of automated or self-driving vehicles on Michigan’s roads in December 2013, but requires a human in the driver seat at all time while the vehicle is in use.[25] Colorado's proposed bill was rejected in committee in February 2013.[130]

In 2013, the government of the United Kingdom permitted the testing of autonomous cars on public roads.[131] Prior to this, all testing of robotic vehicles in the UK had been conducted on private property.[131]

In 2014, the Land Transport Authority of Singapore will start testing driverless cars.

Vehicular communication systems[edit]

Individual vehicles may benefit from information obtained from other vehicles in the vicinity, especially information relating to traffic congestion and safety hazards. Vehicular communication systems use vehicles and roadside units as the communicating nodes in a peer-to-peer network, providing each other with information. As a cooperative approach, vehicular communication systems can allow all cooperating vehicles to be more effective. According to a 2010 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicular communication systems could help avoid up to 81 percent of all traffic accidents.[1]

In 2012, computer scientists at the University of Texas in Austin began developing smart intersections designed for autonomous cars. The intersections will have no traffic lights and no stop signs, instead using computer programs that will communicate directly with each car on the road.[132]


Public opinion surveys[edit]

In a 2011 online survey of 2,006 US and UK consumers by Accenture, 49% said they would be comfortable using a "driverless car".[139]

A 2012 survey of 17,400 vehicle owners by J.D. Power and Associates found 37% initially said they would be interested in purchasing a fully autonomous car. However, that figure dropped to 20% if told the technology would cost $3,000 more.[140]

In a 2012 survey of about 1,000 German drivers by automotive researcher Puls, 22% of the respondents had a positive attitude towards these cars, 10% were undecided, 44% were skeptical and 24% were hostile.[141]

A 2013 survey of 1,500 consumers across 10 countries by Cisco Systems found a full 57% "stated they would be likely to ride in a car controlled entirely by technology that does not require a human driver", with Brazil, India and China the most willing to trust autonomous technology.[142]

In a 2014 US telephone survey by, over three-quarters of licensed drivers said they would at least consider buying a self-driving car, rising to 86% if car insurance were cheaper. 31.7% said they would not continue to drive once an autonomous car was available instead.[143]

Notable projects[edit]

In fiction[edit]

In film and television[edit]

In literature[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]