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.
General Motors' Firebird II was described as having an "electronic brain" that allowed it to move into a lane with a metal conductor and follow it along.

An autonomous car,[1] also known as a driverless car,[2] self-driving car[3] and robotic car,[4] is an automated or autonomous vehicle capable of fulfilling the main 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).[5]

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.[6][7] By definition, autonomous vehicles are capable of updating 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.[citation needed]

Some demonstrative systems, precursory to autonomous cars, date back to the 1920s and 30s. The first self-sufficient and truly autonomous cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University's Navlab and ALV projects in 1984 and Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich's EUREKA Prometheus Project in 1987. Since then, numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles.


Autonomous means having the power for self-government.[8] Many historical projects related to vehicle autonomy have in fact only been automated (made to be automatic) due to a heavy reliance on artificial hints in their environment, such as magnetic strips. Autonomous control implies good performance under significant uncertainties in the environment for extended periods of time and the ability to compensate for system failures without external intervention.[8] As can be seen from many projects mentioned, it is often suggested to extend the capabilities of an autonomous car by implementing communication networks both in the immediate vicinity (for collision avoidance) and far away (for congestion management). By bringing in these outside influences in the decision process, some would no longer regard the car's behaviour or capabilities as autonomous; for example Wood et al. (2012) 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".[9]

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system:[10]


The RRL's modified 1960 Citroen DS19 to be automatically controlled at the Science Museum, London.

Experiments have been conducted on automating cars since at least the 1920s;[11] promising trials took place in the 1950s and work has proceeded since then. The first self-sufficient and truly autonomous cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University's Navlab[12] and ALV[13][14] projects in 1984 and Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich's EUREKA Prometheus Project [15] in 1987. Since then, numerous major companies and research organizations have developed working prototype autonomous vehicles. including Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Continental Automotive Systems, Autoliv Inc., Bosch, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, Audi, Volvo, Peugeot, AKKA Technologies, Vislab from University of Parma, Oxford University and Google.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23] In July 2013, Vislab demonstrated BRAiVE, a vehicle that moved autonomously on a mixed traffic route open to public traffic.[24] As of 2013, four U.S. states have passed laws permitting autonomous cars: Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan.[25][26][27][28][29]

In Europe, cities in Belgium, France, Italy and the UK are planning to operate transport systems for driverless cars,[30][31][32] and Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain have allowed testing robotic cars in traffic. In 2015, the UK Government launched public trials of the LUTZ Pathfinder driverless pod in Milton Keynes.[33]

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:

Policy implications[edit]

If fully autonomous cars become commercially available they have the potential to be a disruptive innovation with major implications for society. The likelihood of widespread adoption is still unclear, but if they are used on a wide scale policy makers face a number of unresolved questions about their effects.[64] One fundamental question is about their effect on travel behaviour. Some people believe that they will increase car ownership and car use because it will become easier to use them and they will ultimately be more useful.[64] This may in turn encourage urban sprawl and ultimately total private vehicle use. Others argue that it will be easier to share cars and that this will thus discourage outright ownership and decrease total usage, and make cars more efficient forms of transportation in relation to the present situation.[65]


U.S. 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.[66] To clarify the legal status of and otherwise regulate such vehicles, several states have enacted or are considering specific laws.[67] 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. 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.[26][27][68] This legislation was supported by Google in an effort to legally conduct further testing of its Google driverless car.[28] 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.[28][69][70] Furthermore, Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests.[71]

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

In 2013, the government of the United Kingdom permitted the testing of autonomous cars on public roads.[72] Prior to this, all testing of robotic vehicles in the UK had been conducted on private property.[72]

In 2014 the Government of France announced that testing of autonomous cars on public roads would be allowed in 2015. 2000 km of road would be opened through the national territory, especially in Bordeaux, in Isère, Île-de-France and Strasbourg.

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.[73]

Through the implementation of Global Positioning System (GPS), navigation of the autonomous vehicles is simplified. The location of the vehicle can also be acquired by the longitude and latitude obtained by the GPS.[74]

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".[75]

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.[76]

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.[77]

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.[78]

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.[79]


Autonomous vehicles are still a developing technology; a large number of companies and researchers have speculated about future developments and the possible effects of the cars.

With Autonomous vehicles,

In fiction[edit]

In film and television[edit]

Minority Report's Lexus 2054 on display in Paris, France in October 2002.
I, Robot's Audi RSQ at CeBIT in March 2005.

In literature[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]