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Ensuring safety in autonomous cars
T.J. Rowe

T.J. Rowe

KITT, the Batmobile, that awesome Audi in I, Robot. People have been imagining self-driving cars for generations. One day, people will be able to effortlessly cruise around and fight crime, or maybe just take a nap – we're not all action heroes – but what would it really take to have a level 5 autonomous car?

Getting a car to move on its own has been available for decades with cruise control. Overtime, auto companies have developed sensors to keep drivers aware of their surroundings and given cars fine motor skills for parking assistance. To bring in the next generation of travel, AI developers are focused on how to ensure the safety of those in and out of the vehicle. The HERE Safety Services have boiled it down to three main components: sensors, a map, and road conditions.

Sensors

Sensors

Drivers need to see what’s around them. For humans, this is guaranteed by mirrors and basic sensors/front-facing cameras. For autonomous cars, it’s a little more technical. From temperature gauges and cameras to lasers and sonar, new cars are coming equipped with a wide range of environment sensors.

Each serves its own purpose, ultimately working towards the same goal: avoid a collision. Giving the car an awareness of the immediate surroundings helps with parking assistance, and blind-spot detection, and "seeing" how much room there is between you and the car in front of you. With quick enough processing time, the AI can stop the car before an incident happens.

Map

Map

Every driver, human or not, needs to know where they're going. For that, they can use the most intelligent vehicle sensor, The HERE HD Live Map. It proudly boasts more than half a million kilometers of mapped roadways. It can determine where you are in your lane within centimeters of accuracy and can even know the speed limit. Your car won't ever have to stop and ask for directions and, more importantly, it won’t drive into a house. What will make autonomous driving even more feasible, is overlaying the sensory data on top of the map.

Road conditions

Road conditions

Sensing road hazards as they approach is imperative, however, level 5 autonomous car can't solely rely on last minute decisions based on what it can detect. Fully autonomous cars need the ability to see beyond the range of their own sensors. This comes to fruition when a car is reporting its sensor data. Other cars then receive that information, learn from it, and share that information back in near-real time. In this way, the more cars that are sensing the conditions of the road, the safer the road becomes. Knowing about slick weather conditions, potholes, and traffic patterns enables the AI to decide where and how to drive in the safest way possible.

How far are we from level 5 autonomy? With regulations and technological developments still being figured out, it's hard to say. Rest assured, HERE is moving us towards the travel we've been dreaming about for generations.