I am honored to be a participant at the 13th International CDIO conference in Calgary, Alberta.
The question being asked at the 2017 CDIO Academy is:
What is the biggest challenge facing autonomous vehicles, and what may a solution be?
I will begin my first blog post by covering basic facts of autonomous vehicles, their applications, their feasibility and current models being tested today.
There are several applications for autonomous vehicles. They may provide disabled and handicapped people an opportunity to travel more accessibly. An autonomous vehicle has the power to prevent accidents that happen with reckless or distracted drivers. They can also ensure vehicles are operating at safe driving conditions within the speed limit. There is a lot of time spent driving especially in highly populated areas; an autonomous vehicle will enable the passenger to complete other tasks during the duration of the drive.
An autonomous vehicle can be more clearly defined by considering various levels for various functionalities. SAE defines Levels 0-5 as various classifications for autonomous vehicles.
There are ultimately three various ranges where we can define the human driver as being in control of the driving. An increase in a level results in a decrease in human control
Level 0: No Automation- The human driver is in full control.
Level 1: Driver Assistance- The system plays a role in steering and acceleration/deceleration.
Level 2: Partial Automation- This system is in full control of the steering and acceleration/deceleration.
Levels 3-6 is categorized as its own group since it involves the system monitoring the driving environment
Level 3: Conditional Automation- The system controls the steering, acceleration/deceleration and monitors the driving environment.
Level 4: High Automation- The system controls the steering, acceleration/deceleration, monitors the driving environment and is in control of the dynamic driving.
Level 5: Full Automation- The system controls the steering, acceleration/deceleration, the dynamic driving, monitors the driving environment and is fully capable of driving in all modes.
There have been several autonomous vehicle prototypes, some of which have been even tested in public roads. Two such vehicles are discussed below
Vehicle: Spirit of Berlin
University: Freie Universität Berlin
SAE Classification Level: 4
Characteristics/Behaviors: These vehicles use advanced sensors along with previously defined GPS maps to navigate. The vehicles are able to drive through public roads, where traffic, pedestrians and other roadside obstacles are present. It is interesting to note that these vehicles are being tested to become semi-autonomous. This gives us the power to remotely control the car using an iPhone, for example.
Tests: The vehicles are frequently tested and are in fact licensed to navigate in the roads of Germany. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides the means to test the vehicles.
Company: Google Inc and Alphabet Inc.
SAE Classification Level: 4
Characteristics/Behaviors: With the assistance of a Velodyne 64 beam-laser, these vehicles are able to generate a 3D map of their surroundings. The generated maps along with previously defined GPS data are combined to create models of the vehicles’ surroundings. These maps become the eyes of the vehicle allowing it to navigate in the real world. The mapping information stored in the car’s software has defined speed limits for all routes, ensuring the car obeys the limit at all times. However, there is much room for improvement as the vehicles have difficulty identifying miscellaneous objects such as garbage, which do not need to be steered around.
These vehicles have been frequently tested in labs as well as on public roads. In fact, they have even driven over the Golden Gate Bridge! While the cars have been able to drive autonomously over 160 000 miles, they have been involved in a few collisions.13 of the 14 collisions occurred while a human operated the vehicle. The other collision occurred due to a software issue. While these vehicles have indeed been tested at great distances it should be noted that they have not been tested under all conditions. For example, the vehicles have not been tested in heavy rain or snow.
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