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] or robotic car[4] 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).[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] 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.

Some demonstrative systems, precursory to autonomous cars, date back to the 1920s and 30s.[7] The first self-sufficient and truly autonomous cars appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University's Navlab[8] and ALV[9][10] projects in 1984 and Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich's EUREKA Prometheus Project [11] 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, Toyota, Audi, Volvo, Vislab from University of Parma, Oxford University and Google.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] In July 2013, Vislab demonstrated BRAiVE, a vehicle that moved autonomously on a mixed traffic route open to public traffic.[20] As of 2013, four U.S. states have passed laws permitting autonomous cars: Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan.[21][22][23][24][25] In Europe, cities in Belgium, France, Italy and the UK are planning to operate transport systems for driverless cars,[26][27][28] and Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain have allowed testing robotic cars in traffic.


Autonomous means having the power for self-government.[29] 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.[29] 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".[30]

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established an official classification system:[31]

  • Level 0: The driver completely controls the vehicle at all times.
  • Level 1: Individual vehicle controls are automated, such as electronic stability control or automatic braking.
  • Level 2: At least two controls can be automated in unison, such as adaptive cruise control in combination with lane keeping.
  • Level 3: The driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions. The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a "sufficiently comfortable transition time" for the driver to do so.
  • Level 4: The vehicle performs all safety-critical functions for the entire trip, with the driver not expected to control the vehicle at any time. As this vehicle would control all functions from start to stop, including all parking functions, it could include unoccupied cars.

Potential advantages[edit]

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

  • Fewer traffic collisions, due to an autonomous system's increased reliability and faster reaction time compared to human drivers.[32]
  • Increased roadway capacity and reduced traffic congestion due to reduced need for safety gaps[33][34] and the ability to better manage traffic flow.[32]
  • Relief of vehicle occupants from driving and navigation chores.[32]
  • Higher speed limit for autonomous cars.[35]
  • Removal of constraints on occupants' state – in an autonomous car, it would not matter if the occupants were under age, over age,[36] blind, distracted, intoxicated, or otherwise impaired.
  • Alleviation of parking scarcity, as cars could drop off passengers, park far away where space is not scarce, and return as needed to pick up passengers.
  • Elimination of redundant passengers – the robotic car could drive unoccupied to wherever it is required, such as to pick up passengers or to go in for maintenance. This would be especially relevant to trucks, taxis and car-sharing services.[34][37][38]
  • Reduction of space required for vehicle parking.[39]
  • Reduction in the need for traffic police and vehicle insurance.[40]
  • Reduction of physical road signage – autonomous cars could receive necessary communication electronically (although physical signs may still be required for any human drivers).[41][42][43]
  • Smoother ride.[44]
  • Reduction in car theft, due to the vehicle's self-awareness.[45]

Potential obstacles[edit]

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

  • Liability for damage.[46]
  • Resistance by individuals to forfeit control of their cars.[47]
  • Software reliability.[48]
  • A car's computer could potentially be compromised, as could a communication system between cars.[49][50]
  • Implementation of legal framework and establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars.[51]
  • Drivers being inexperienced if situations arose requiring manual driving.[52]
  • Loss of driving-related jobs.[40][53][54]
  • Loss of privacy.[55]
  • Competition for the radio spectrum desired for the car's communication.[56]
  • Self-driving cars could potentially be loaded with explosives and used as bombs.[57]
  • Ethical problems analogous to the trolley problem arise in situations where an autonomous car's software is forced during an unavoidable crash to choose between multiple harmful courses of action.[58][59]
  • Susceptibility of the cars navigation system to severe weather.


Official predictions[edit]

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

  • In late 2014, Volvo will feature Adaptive Cruise Control with steer assist which will automatically follow the vehicle ahead in queues.[60] Mercedes already has it on some markets.[61]
  • In late 2014, The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is expected to set recommendations for setting aside broadband spectrum for autonomous cars.[56]
  • By 2015, Tesla says its cars will "probably" be capable of autopilot for 90 percent of miles driven, and definitely so for highway miles.[62] This feature combines automatic lane change, adaptive cruise control, and sign recognition to regulate speed and location.[63]
  • By 2015, California will allow the testing of vehicles without wheels or pedals such as Google's on public roads. This will follow a 120-day grace period after a rule to be introduced in late 2014.[64]
  • By the mid-2010s, Toyota plans to roll out near-autonomous vehicles dubbed Automated Highway Driving Assist with Lane Trace Control and Cooperative-adaptive Cruise Control.[65]
  • By 2016, Audi plans to market vehicles that can autonomously steer, accelerate and brake at lower speeds, such as in traffic jams.[66]
  • By 2016, Mercedes plans to introduce "Autobahn Pilot" aka Highway Pilot, the system allow hands-free highway driving with autonomous overtaking of other vehicles.[67]
  • By 2016, Mobileye expects to release hands-free driving technology for highways.[68]
  • In 2016 (2017 model year), GM plans to offer a "super cruise" feature on select Cadillac models, with autonomous lane keeping, speed control, and brake control, so that parts of trips can be made without touching the wheel or pedals.[69]
  • By early 2017, the US Department of Transportation hopes to publish a rule mandating vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication by an as-yet unspecified deadline.[70] GM says that by the 2017 model year, the Cadillac CTS will be V2V equipped.[71]
  • Between 2017 to 2020, Google believes its Level 4 self-driving cars will be available to the public.[72]
  • By 2018, Mobileye expects autonomous capabilities for country roads and city traffic.[73]
  • By 2018, Nissan anticipates to have a feature that can allow the vehicle manoeuver its way on multi-lane highways.[74]
  • By 2019 or 2020, Tesla expects that "true autonomous driving" where passengers can "get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination" will be achieved.[75]
  • By 2020, Volvo envisages having cars in which passengers would be immune from injuries.[60] Volvo also claim vehicles will effectively be "crash free." [76]
  • By 2020, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan, BMW and Renault all expect to sell vehicles that can drive themselves at least part of the time.[56][77][78][79][80]
  • By 2024, Jaguar expects to release an autonomous car.[81]
  • By 2025, Daimler and Ford expect autonomous vehicles on the market.[82][83]
  • By 2025, most new GM vehicles will have automated driving functions as well as vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology.[84]
  • By 2035, IHS Automotive report says will be the year most self-driving vehicles will be operated completely independent from a human occupant’s control.[85]


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.[86] To clarify the legal status of and otherwise regulate such vehicles, several states have enacted or are considering specific laws.[87] 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.[22][23][88] The law went into effect on 1 March 2012.[89] This legislation was supported by Google in an effort to legally conduct further testing of its Google driverless car.[24]

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.[24][90][91] Furthermore, Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests.[92]

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.[89] 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'."[92]

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."[93]

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.[94] 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.[95]

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.[27] Colorado's proposed bill was rejected in committee in February 2013.[96]

In 2013, the government of the United Kingdom permitted the testing of autonomous cars on public roads.[97] Prior to this, all testing of robotic vehicles in the UK had been conducted on private property.[97]

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.[98]

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.[99]


  • Expert members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have estimated that up to 75% of all vehicles will be autonomous by 2040.[100]
  • Navigant Research forecasts that autonomous vehicles will gradually gain traction in the market over the coming two decades and by 2035, sales of autonomous vehicles will reach 95.4 million annually, representing 75% of all light-duty vehicle sales.[101]
  • ABI Research forecasts that truly self-driving cars would become a reality by 2020 and that 10 million such new cars would be rolling out on to United States' public highways every year by 2032.[102]
  • Columbia University's The Earth Institute forecasts the reduction of United States' fleet of vehicles by a factor of 10.[103]
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts a reduction of traffic accidents by a factor of 10 and it concludes that the fleet of vehicles in the United States may collapse from 245 million to just 2.4 million.[104]
  • KPMG LLP and the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) foresee improvements in productivity and energy efficiency as well as new business models.[105]
  • Morgan Stanley estimates that autonomous cars could save the United States $1.3 trillion annually by lowering fuel consumption ($169 billion), reducing crash costs ($488 billion) and boosting productivity ($645 billion).[106]

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".[107]

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.[108]

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.[109]

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.[110]

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.[111]

Notable projects[edit]

  • The DARPA Grand Challenge was held in 2004, 2005 and 2007 as an autonomous driving competition with millions of dollars in prize money.[112]
  • In November 2010, Hyundai Kia Automotive Group held the Korean Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC), with a top prize of $100,000.[citation needed] The Hanyang University A1 team won the prize.[citation needed]
  • In 2011, Google autonomous car has finished a total of 140,000 miles including highways and city streets without a single accident.[113]
  • In September 2012, Hyundai Kia Automotive Group held the 2nd Korean Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC), with a top prize of $100,000.[citation needed] The Hanyang University A1 team won the prize.[citation needed]
  • In October 2014, Hyundai Kia Automotive Group held the 3rd Korean Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC), with a top prize of $100,000.[citation needed] The Hanyang University A1 team won the prize.[citation needed]
  • In October 2013, KSAE and KATECH held the Korean Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC), with a top prize of $100,000.[citation needed] The Hanyang University A1 team won the prize.[citation needed]
  • The Google driverless car project maintains a test fleet of autonomous vehicles that has driven 300,000 miles (480,000 km) with no machine-caused accidents as of August 2012.[17] By April 2014 700,000 autonomous miles (1,100,000 km) were logged.[114]
  • The €800 million EC EUREKA Prometheus Project conducted research on autonomous vehicles from 1987 to 1995. Among its culmination points were the twin robot vehicles VITA-2 and VaMP of Daimler-Benz and Ernst Dickmanns, driving long distances in heavy traffic.
  • The $90 million Automated Highway System program demonstrated vehicle automation to thousands at Demo '97 in San Diego, California.[citation needed]
  • The 2010 VIAC Challenge saw four autonomous vehicles drive from Italy to China on a 100-day 9,900-mile (15,900 km) trip with only limited human intervention, such as in traffic jams and when passing toll stations.[115] At the time, this was the longest-ever journey conducted by an unmanned vehicle.[115]
  • The ARGO vehicle (see History above) is the predecessor of the BRAiVE vehicle, both from the University of Parma's VisLab. Argo was developed in 1996 and demonstrated to the world in 1998; BRAiVE was developed in 2008 and demonstrated in 2009 at the IEEE IV conference in Xi'an, China.
  • In 2012, Stanford's Dynamic Design Lab, in collaboration with the Volkswagen Electronics Research Lab, produced Shelley, an Audi TTS designed for high speed (greater than 100 miles per hour (160 km/h)) on a racetrack course.[116]
  • Oxford University's 2011 WildCat Project created a modified Bowler Wildcat which is capable of autonomous operation using a flexible and diverse sensor suite.[117][118]
  • The Volkswagen Golf GTI 53+1 is a modified Volkswagen Golf GTI capable of autonomous driving.[119][120][121] In his 2010 book, Democracy and the Common Wealth, Michael E. Arth claims that autonomous cars could become universally adopted if almost all private cars requiring drivers, which are not in use and parked 90% of the time, were traded for public self-driving taxis, which would be in near-constant use.[122]
  • AutoNOMOS – part of the Artificial Intelligence Group of the Freie Universität Berlin[123]
  • Toyota has developed prototype cars with autonomous capabilities for demonstration at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.[15]
  • In February 2013, Oxford University unveiled the RobotCar UK project, an inexpensive autonomous car capable of quickly switching from manual driving to autopilot on learned routes.[16][124][125]
  • Israel has significant research efforts to develop a fully autonomous border-patrol vehicle. This originated with its success with Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, and following the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier. Two projects, by Elbit Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries, are based on the locally produced Armored "Tomcar" and have the specific purpose of patrolling barrier fences against intrusions.
  • The Oshkosh Corporation developed an autonomous military vehicle called TerraMax and is integrating its systems into some future 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.
  • The 2004 film I, Robot features autonomous vehicles driving on highways, allowing the car to travel safer at higher speeds than if manually controlled. The option to manually operate the vehicles is available.
  • "Driven", series 4 episode 11 of the 2006 TV series NCIS features a robotic vehicle named "Otto," part of a high-level project of the Department of Defense, which causes the death of a Navy Lieutenant, and then later almost kills Abby.
  • The éX-Driver anime series features autonomous electric-powered vehicles driven by Artificial Intelligences (AIs). These sometimes malfunction or are taken over by malicious users, requiring interception and intervention by éX-Drivers operating manually controlled gas-powered vehicles.

In literature[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]