The Technology behind Autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are able to function and navigate using sophisticated technology. There are several technologies that provide the vehicle with the ability to function properly. We will look at a few below.

GPS: A mapping system provides the foundation for the directions an autonomous vehicle has to take to reach its final destination. This map is used alongside cameras to navigate through the roads.

Laser Illuminating Detection and Ranging (LIDAR): LIDAR creates a 3D map, which allows the autonomous vehicle to detect its surroundings. A laser beam is used to map out objects near the vehicle.

Radar: Radars are usually mounted in pairs at the front and rear of an autonomous vehicle. Radar enables the vehicle to sense the relative motion of surrounding cars and other moving objects. This enables the vehicle to essentially understand when to stop, start and change its speed in response to the constantly changing environment.

Sonar: Sonar technology enables the autonomous vehicle to respond swiftly to its environment by understanding the relative motion of other moving objects near by. It’s capable of determining when the brakes should be applied and when to steer away to avoid hazards.

Cameras: Cameras are used alongside the numerous other technologies to help the autonomous vehicle understand its surroundings. The cameras help the vehicle navigate by providing accuracy of nearby objects up to 30 meters.

Further investigation and analysis of all of these technologies is required to fully understand how they function. We will look further into LIDAR.

How is it used: Similar to how Bats use sound to navigate through their surroundings, LIDAR uses laser light to help the autonomous vehicle travel. The reflection of the light rays on surrounding objects enables the vehicle to understand the object’s relative distances.

Pros: LIDAR can be used without limitations of its surrounding environment. It is not dependent on the on the time of day, as it emits its own light. LIDAR technology provides the vehicle with high-resolution results which enables the vehicle to produce a 3D map.

Cons: The cost of this technology is quite high given several restrictions. LIDAR is only able to emit its lights up to 70 meters. LIDAR is also has difficulty understanding reflected light when there is smog or fog.

Future Potential: LIDARs can be improved by enhancing the data retrieval of the technology. It has been noted that LIDAR is generally slower in refreshing its data and it has difficulty sensing and recording objects that are in motion relative to the vehicle. LIDARs are powerful tools but still have room to improve.


Patkar, Mihir, Dan Price, and Bryan Clark. “How Self-Driving Cars Work: The Nuts and Bolts Behind Google’s Autonomous Car Program.” MakeUseOf. N.p., 21 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 May 2017.

Brad Templeton Cameras or Lasers? N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2017

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