Self-driving cars: how do they keep us safe?

Self-driving cars aren't just fixtures in science fiction movies set in the distant future. You may not see them passing you on the Trans-Canada highway, but they are being tested, driven and reworked by major car companies right now. It's inevitable: we'll be seeing self-driving cars on the market (relatively) soon.

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Here’s how autonomous cars plan to keep you safe on the road:

Eliminating the high percentage of human error

Before fully autonomous vehicles become available to the public, they have to “”know”” how to respond in any driving situation—whether it’s a crossing pedestrian, a snow squall or the dangerous driver riding really close behind you. Drivers use their senses and skills to take themselves safely from point A to point B, but we’re not perfect. The goal of self-driving cars is to eliminate human error and therefore reduce the number of road accidents.

What are self-driving autonomy levels?

While fully autonomous self-driving cars aren’t yet available, many cars have certain levels of autonomy. On the low end, you have automatic braking and cruise control (level 1). On the high end, the car can take over in most driving situations, but not all (level 4). We are currently at level 3: drivers are still expected to take over in high-pressure situations. Here’s a quick breakdown of self-driving levels:

  • Level 0: No AI control.
  • Level 1: Minor AI controls like cruise control.
  • Level 2: Driver alertness still required but certain functions can be controlled by AI simultaneously.
  • Level 3: In certain traffic situations, the car can drive completely autonomously. However, drivers must be alert and ready to take over within seconds. At this level, AI is your co-pilot. (Check out these Tesla models featuring Autopilot).
  • Level 4: The car can safely maneuver through all driving scenarios, such as city driving. There is still a cockpit and the driver is still required to sit behind the wheel, but the bulk of the driving is autonomous.
  • Level 5: The car is fully autonomous. At this level, there is no cockpit and no driver.

How do self-driving cars work?

The foundation of all self-driving technology lies in three technologies that work symbiotically:

  • Connectivity
  • Sensors
  • Software

When we say connectivity, we’re talking about the car’s ability to gather important information that could influence the drive, such as traffic, road conditions, weather, maps and construction.

Many sensors are already available in new cars. Whenever you use parking assist, forward collision warning and blind-spot monitoring, your car’s sensors are engaged. Sensors in fully autonomous cars also include radar, cameras and ultrasonic technology.

Sensors are useless without the software that rapidly collects the data from the car’s sensors and connectivity to control the car’s steering, braking and accelerations. It’s the software that allows cars to be fully autonomous, which makes it the focus of tech companies at the moment.

Considering cars only became accessible a hundred years ago, we’ve come farther than perhaps Henry Ford ever thought possible.

Look out for Level 4 and Level 5 self-driving cars in the future. Level 3, or conditional automation, is within our grasp. Are you looking for a car with level 3 capabilities? Check out the Audi A8 or similar models on Kijiji Autos.

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