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Autonomous cars can detect surroundings using a variety of techniques such as radar, lidar, GPS, odometry, and computer vision. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage. Autonomous cars have control systems that are capable of analyzing sensory data to distinguish between different cars on the road, which is very useful in planning a path to the desired destination.
Some demonstrative systems, precursory to autonomous cars, date back to the 1920s and 30s. The first self-sufficient (and therefore, 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.
- 1 Autonomous vs. automated
- 2 Classification
- 3 History
- 4 Transport systems
- 5 Potential advantages
- 6 Potential obstacles
- 7 Safety record
- 8 Policy implications
- 9 Vehicular communication systems
- 10 Public opinion surveys
- 11 In fiction
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
Autonomous vs. automated
Autonomous means having the power for self-governance. 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. 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." The term "autonomous" was chosen 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".
A classification system based on six different levels (ranging from driver assistance to fully automated systems) was published in 2014 by SAE International, (former Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), an automotive standardisation body. This classification system is based on the amount of driver intervention and attentiveness required, rather than the vehicle capabilities, although these are very closely related. In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released in 2013 a formal classification system. The NHTSA abandoned this system when it adopted the SAE standard in September 2016.
SAE automated vehicle classifications:
- Level 0: Automated system has no vehicle control, but may issue warnings.
- Level 1: Driver must be ready to take control at any time. Automated system may include features such as Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Parking Assistance with automated steering, and Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA) Type II in any combination.
- Level 2: The driver is obliged to detect objects and events and respond if the automated system fails to respond properly. The automated system executes accelerating, braking, and steering. The automated system can deactivate immediately upon takeover by the driver.
- Level 3: Within known, limited environments (such as freeways), the driver can safely turn their attention away from driving tasks.
- Level 4: The automated system can control the vehicle in all but a few environments such as severe weather. The driver must enable the automated system only when it is safe to do so. When enabled, driver attention is not required.
- Level 5: Other than setting the destination and starting the system, no human intervention is required. The automatic system can drive to any location where it is legal to drive.
Experiments have been conducted on automating cars since at least the 1920s; 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 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, including Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Continental Automotive Systems, IAV, Autoliv Inc., Bosch, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, Audi, Hyundai Motor Company, Volvo, Tesla Motors, Peugeot, Local Motors, AKKA Technologies, Vislab from University of Parma, Oxford University and Google. In July 2013, Vislab demonstrated BRAiVE, a vehicle that moved autonomously on a mixed traffic route open to public traffic. In 2015, four US states (Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan) together with Washington, D.C. will be joined by Virginia in allowing the testing of fully autonomous cars on public roads. While autonomous cars have generally been tested in regular weather on normal roads, Ford has been testing its autonomous cars on snow-covered roads.
In Europe, cities in Belgium, France, Italy and the UK are planning to operate transport systems for driverless cars, 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. Since Summer 2015 the French government allowed PSA Peugeot-Citroen to make trials in real conditions in the Paris area. The experiments will be extended to other French cities like Bordeaux and Strasbourg by 2016. The alliance between the French companies THALES and Valeo (provider of the first self-parking car system that equips Audi and Mercedes premi) is also testing its own driverless car system.
Among the anticipated benefits of automated cars is the potential reduction in traffic collisions (and resulting deaths and injuries and costs), caused by human-driver errors, such as delayed reaction time, tailgating, rubbernecking, and other forms of distracted or aggressive driving.
If a human driver isn't required, automated cars could also reduce labor costs; relieve travelers from driving and navigation chores  (thereby replacing behind-the-wheel commuting hours with more time for leisure or work); and this technology would lift constraints on occupant ability and age parameters, as it would not matter if all the parties on board were under age, over age, blind, distracted, intoxicated, prone to seizures, or otherwise impaired. Additional advantages could include higher speed limits; smoother rides; increased roadway capacity; and minimized traffic congestion, due to decreased need for safety gaps.
There would also be an improved ability to manage traffic flow, combined with less need for traffic police, vehicle insurance; or even road signage, since automated cars could receive necessary communication electronically (although roadway signage may still be needed for any human drivers on the road). The area required for vehicle parking would also be cut down, as these cars would be able to go where space is scarce.
The vehicles' increased awareness could reduce car theft, while the removal of the steering wheel—along with the remaining driver interface and the requirement for any occupant to assume a forward-facing position—would give the interior of the cabin greater ergonomic flexibility. Large vehicles, such as motorhomes, would attain appreciably enhanced ease of use.
When used for carsharing, the total number of cars is reduced. Furthermore, new business models (such as mobility as a service) can develop, which aim to be cheaper than car ownership by removing the cost of the driver. Finally, the robotic car could drive unoccupied to wherever it is required, such as to pick up passengers or to go in for maintenance (eliminating redundant passengers).
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In spite of the various benefits to increased vehicle automation, some foreseeable challenges persist:
- Disputes concerning liability.
- Time needed to turn an existing fleet of vehicles from nonautonomous to autonomous.
- Resistance by individuals to forfeit control of their cars.
- Customer concern about the safety of driverless cars, as previously occurred with the introduction of operatorless elevators.
- Implementation of legal framework and establishment of government regulations for self-driving cars.
- Drivers would be inexperienced when complex situations arise that require manual driving.
- Loss of driving-related jobs. Resistance from professional drivers and unions who perceive job losses.
- Loss of privacy. Sharing of information through V2V (Vehicle to Vehicle) and V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) protocols.
- Self-driving cars could potentially be loaded with explosives and used as bombs.
- Ethical problems in situations where an autonomous car's software is forced during an unavoidable crash to choose between multiple harmful courses of action.
- Gestures and non-verbal cues by police and pedestrians are not adapted to autonomous driving.
- Software reliability.
- A car's computer could potentially be compromised, as could a communication system between cars.
- Susceptibility of the car's sensing and navigation systems to different types of weather or deliberate interference, including jamming and spoofing.
- Autonomous cars may require very high-quality specialised maps to operate properly. Where these maps may be out of date, they would need to be able to fall back to reasonable behaviors.
- Competition for the radio spectrum desired for the car's communication.
- Field programmability for the systems will require careful evaluation of product development and the component supply chain.
- Current road infrastructure may need changes for autonomous cars to function optimally.
In mid‑October 2015 Tesla Motors rolled out version 7 of their software in the U.S. that included the Tesla Autopilot capability. On 9 January 2016, Tesla rolled out version 7.1 as an over-the-air update, adding a new "summon" feature that allows cars to self-park at parking locations without the driver in the car. Tesla's autonomous driving features are ahead of others in the industry, and can be classified as somewhere between level 2 and level 3 under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) five levels of vehicle automation. At this level the car can act autonomously but requires the full attention of the driver, who must be prepared to take control at a moment's notice. Autopilot should be used only on limited-access highways, and sometimes it will fail to detect lane markings and disengage itself. In urban driving the system will not read traffic signals or obey stop signs. The system also does not detect pedestrians or cyclists.
The first fatal accident involving a vehicle being driven by itself took place in Williston, Florida on 7 May 2016 while a Tesla Model S electric car was engaged in Autopilot mode. The occupant was killed in a crash with an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. On 28 June 2016 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal investigation into the accident working with the Florida Highway Patrol. According to the NHTSA, preliminary reports indicate the crash occurred when the tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla at an intersection on a non-controlled access highway, and the car failed to apply the brakes. The car continued to travel after passing under the truck’s trailer. The NHTSA's preliminary evaluation was opened to examine the design and performance of any automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash, which involved a population of an estimated 25,000 Model S cars. On 8 July 2016, the NHTSA requested Tesla Motors provide the agency detailed information about the design, operation and testing of its Autopilot technology. The agency also requested details of all design changes and updates to Autopilot since its introduction, and Tesla's planned updates schedule for the next four months.
According to Tesla Motors, “neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.” The car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, “with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.” Tesla also stated that this was Tesla’s first known autopilot death in over 130 million miles (208 million km) driven by its customers with Autopilot engaged. According to Tesla there is a fatality every 94 million miles (150 million km) among all type of vehicles in the U.S. Although this number also includes fatalities of the crashes, for example, of motorcycle driver with stationary objects or pedestrians.
The truck's driver told the Associated Press the Tesla driver was “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen" at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that "he went so fast through my trailer I didn't see him.” “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road.” The Florida Highway Patrol said they found in the wreckage an aftermarket digital video disc (DVD) player. However, Tesla Motors said it is not possible to watch videos on the Model S touch screen, with no reference to the movie in initial police reports.
In July 2016 the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) opened a formal investigation into the fatal accident while the Autopilot was engaged. The NTSB is an investigative body that only has the power to make policy recommendations. An agency spokesman said "It's worth taking a look and seeing what we can learn from that event, so that as that automation is more widely introduced we can do it in the safest way possible." The NTSB annually opens about 25 to 30 highway investigations while it is mandated by law to investigate the more than 1,000 aviation accidents a year.
According to Tesla, starting 19 October 2016, all Tesla cars are built with hardware to allow full self-driving capability at the highest safety level (SAE Level 5). The hardware includes eight surround cameras and twelve ultrasonic sensors, in addition to the forward-facing radar with enhanced processing capabilities. The system will operate in "shadow mode" (processing without taking action) and send data back to Tesla to improve its abilities until the software is ready for deployment via over-the-air upgrades. After the required testing, Tesla hopes to enable full self-driving by the end of 2017 under certain conditions.
Google self-driving car
In August 2012, Google announced that they had completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles (500,000 km) accident-free, typically having about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and were starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs. In late-May 2014, Google revealed a new prototype of its driverless car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, and was fully autonomous. As of March 2016[update], Google had test driven their fleet of driverless cars in autonomous mode a total of 1,500,000 mi (2,400,000 km).
Based on Google's own accident reports, their test cars have been involved in 14 collisions, of which other drivers were at fault 13 times. It was not until 2016 that the car's software caused a crash.
In June 2015, Google founder Sergey Brin confirmed that there had been 12 collisions as of that date, eight of which involved being rear-ended at a stop sign or traffic light, two in which the vehicle was side-swiped by another driver, one in which another driver rolled through a stop sign, and one where a Google employee was controlling the car manually. In July 2015, three Google employees suffered minor injuries when the self-driving car they were riding in was rear-ended by a car whose driver failed to brake at a traffic light. This was the first time that a self-driving car collision resulted in injuries. On 14 February 2016 a Google self-driving car attempted to avoid sandbags blocking its path. During the maneuver it struck a bus. Google addressed the crash, saying “In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision.” Google characterized the crash as a misunderstanding and a learning experience.
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.
One fundamental question is about their effect on travel behavior. 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. 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.
Other disruptive effects will come from the use of autonomous vehicles to carry goods. Self-driving vans have the potential to make home deliveries significantly cheaper, transforming retail commerce and possibly rendering hypermarkets and supermarkets redundant.
In the United States, state vehicle codes generally do not envisage — but do not necessarily prohibit — highly automated vehicles. To clarify the legal status of and otherwise regulate such vehicles, several states have enacted or are considering specific laws. In 2016, 7 states (Nevada, California, Florida, Michigan, Hawaii, Washington, and Tennessee), along with the District of Columbia, have enacted laws for autonomous vehicles. After first fatal accident by Tesla's Autopilot system, revising laws or standards for autonomous car is carefully discussed globally.
In September 2016, the US National Economic Council and Department of Transportation released federal standards that describe how automated vehicles should react if their technology fails, how to protect passenger privacy, and how riders should be protected in the event of an accident. The new federal guidelines are meant to avoid a patchwork of state laws, but to avoid being so overbearing as to stifle innovation.
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. This legislation was supported by Google in an effort to legally conduct further testing of its Google 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. Furthermore, Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger’s seat during tests.
In 2013, the government of the United Kingdom permitted the testing of autonomous cars on public roads. Prior to this, all testing of robotic vehicles in the UK had been conducted on private property.
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. At the 2015 ITS World Congress, a conference dedicated to intelligent transport systems, the very first demonstration of autonomous vehicles on open road in France was carried out in Bordeaux in early October 2015.
In spring of 2015, the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications in Switzerland, short UVEK, allowed Swisscom to test a driverless Volkswagen Passat on the streets of Zurich.
On 19 February 2016, Assembly Bill No. 2866 was introduced in California that would allow completely autonomous vehicles to operate on the road, including those without a driver, steering wheel, accelerator pedal, or brake pedal. The Bill states the Department of Motor Vehicles would need to comply with these regulations by 1 July 2018 for these rules to take effect. This bill has yet to pass the house of origin.
In 2016, the Singapore Land Transit Authority in partnership with UK automotive supplier Delphi Automotive Plc will launch preparations for a test run of a fleet of automated taxis for an on-demand autonomous cab service to take effect in 2017.
Vehicular communication systems
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 79 percent of all traffic accidents.
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.
Among connected cars, an unconnected one is the weakest link and will be increasingly banned from busy high-speed roads, predicted a Helsinki think tank in January 2016.
Public opinion surveys
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In a 2011 online survey of 2,006 US and UK consumers by Accenture, 49% said they would be comfortable using a "driverless car".
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.
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.
A 2013 survey of 1,500 consumers across 10 countries by Cisco Systems found 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.
In a 2014 US telephone survey by Insurance.com, 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.
In a February 2015 survey of top auto journalists, 46% predict that either Tesla or Daimler will be the first to the market with a fully autonomous vehicle, while (at 38%) Daimler is predicted to be the most functional, safe, and in-demand autonomous vehicle.
In 2015 a questionnaire survey by Delft University of Technology explored the opinion of 5,000 people from 109 countries on automated driving. Results showed that respondents, on average, found manual driving the most enjoyable mode of driving. 22% of the respondents did not want to spend any money for a fully automated driving system, whereas 5% indicated they would be willing to pay more than $30,000, and 33% indicated that fully automated driving would be highly enjoyable. 69% of respondents estimated that fully automated driving will reach a 50% market share between now and 2050. Respondents were found to be most concerned about software hacking/misuse, and were also concerned about legal issues and safety. Finally, respondents from more developed countries (in terms of lower accident statistics, higher education, and higher income) were less comfortable with their vehicle transmitting data.
- 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
- Dudu, a VW Beetle, features in a 1971 to 1978 German series of movies similar to Disney's Herbie, but with an electronic brain. (Herbie, also a Beetle, was depicted as an anthropomorphic car with its own spirit.)
- The Stephen King book and eponymous movie adaptation, Christine (1983), feature a sentient, autonomous car as the title character.
- In the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), starring Bob Hoskins, the character Benny the Cab, a sentient taxicab, drives on his own.
- In the film Batman (1989), starring Michael Keaton, the Batmobile is shown to be able to drive to Batman's current location with some navigation commands from Batman and possibly some autonomy.
- The film Total Recall (1990), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, features taxis called Johnny Cabs controlled by artificial intelligence in the car or the android occupants.
- The film Demolition Man (1993), starring Sylvester Stallone and set in 2032, features vehicles that can be self-driven or commanded to "Auto Mode" where a voice-controlled computer operates the vehicle.
- The film Timecop (1994), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, set in 2004 and 1994, has autonomous cars.
- Another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, The 6th Day (2000), features an autonomous car commanded by Michael Rapaport.
- The film Minority Report (2002), set in Washington, D.C. in 2054, features an extended chase sequence involving autonomous cars. The vehicle of protagonist John Anderton is transporting him when its systems are overridden by police in an attempt to bring him into custody.
- The film, The Incredibles (2004), Mr. Incredible makes his car autonomous for him while it changes him into his supersuit when driving to save a cat from a tree.
- The film I, Robot (2004), set in Chicago in 2035, 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.
Intelligent or self-driving cars are a common theme in science fiction literature. Examples include:
- In Isaac Asimov's science-fiction short story, "Sally" (first published May–June 1953), autonomous cars have "positronic brains" and communicate via honking horns and slamming doors, and save their human caretaker.
- Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga series features intelligent or self-driving vehicles.
- In Robert A Heinlein's novel, The Number of the Beast (1980), Zeb Carter's driving and flying car "Gay Deceiver" is at first semi-autonomous and later, after modifications by Zeb's wife Deety, becomes sentient and capable of fully autonomous operation.
- In Edizioni Piemme's series Geronimo Stilton, a robotic vehicle called "Solar" is in the 54th book.
- Alastair Reynolds' series, Revelation Space, features intelligent or self-driving vehicles.
- "CSI: Cyber" Season 2, episode 6, Gone in 60 Seconds, features three seemingly normal customized vehicles, a 2009 Nissan Fairlady Z Roadster, a BMW M3 E90 and a Cadillac CTS-V, and one stock luxury BMW 7-series, being remote-controlled by a computer hacker.
- "Handicar", season 18, episode 4 of 2014 TV series South Park features a Japanese autonomous car that takes part in the Wacky Races-style car race.
- KITT, the Pontiac Trans Am in the 1982 TV series Knight Rider, was sentient and autonomous.
- "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 TV series "Viper" features a silver/grey armored assault vehicle, called The Defender, which masquerades as a flame-red 1992 Dodge Viper RT/10 and later as a 1998 cobalt blue Dodge Viper GTS. The vehicle's sophisticated computer systems allow it to be controlled via remote on some occasions.
- Automated guideway transit
- Automatic train operation
- Automobile safety
- Automotive navigation system
- Connected car
- DAVI - Dutch Automated Vehicle Initiative
- Driverless tractor
- Elevator operator
- Intelligent transportation system
- Mobility as a service (transport)
- Personal rapid transit
- Unmanned ground vehicle
- Unmanned aerial vehicle / Drone
- Vehicle infrastructure integration
- Vehicular automation
- Vision processing unit
- Hybrid navigation
Autonomous driving functions
- Measurement of Assured Clear Distance Ahead
- Autonomous cruise control system
- Automatic parking
- Death by GPS
- Electronic stability control
- Lane Keep Assist
- Precrash system
- Automated platooning
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