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The advent of driverless vehicles holds many possibilities. Not unlike traveling by bus, plane or train, commuters may soon have the ability to busy themselves with reading, communicating with others or engaging in some other activity other than driving. Autonomous vehicles function using a combination of radar, sensors, and software to control a car or truck.

Levels of Autonomy

Self-driving vehicles are rated on a zero to five scale that explains different levels of autonomous functions.

  • Zero-Fully controlled by humans
  • 1-Vehicles having automatic braking systems, cruise control or parking assist
  • 2-The vehicle is capable of having two autonomous features operating simultaneously.
  • 3- Vehicles control safety features automatically but require human intervention
  • 4-The vehicle capably functions independently in certain situations.
  • 5-A vehicle functions independently under all circumstances

Varying degrees of autonomous function have been incorporated into vehicles manufactured by Google, Nissan, Tesla, and Uber. The self-driving vehicles features an internal map and radar sensors. Google’s prototypes have been equipped with cameras, lasers, radar, and sonar technologies that enable the vehicles to function independently. Some of Uber’s prototypes features 64 lasers in addition to various other sensors.

Onboard software programs receive the data gathered by the cameras and sensors to transmit instructions to the components of the vehicle that control acceleration, braking or steering. The software also features algorithms that instruct the vehicle to avoid obstacles and obey traffic regulations.

Potential Problems

However, the software is not fully capable of correctly analyzing and acting in certain situations. A self-driving vehicle created by Google became involved in a collision. The autonomous vehicle stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, the vehicle proceeded through the intersection. However, a distracted driver ran the stoplight and hit the robotic car. Thus far, self-driving vehicles are not equipped to handle situations involving human error.

Self-driving vehicles are also susceptible to hacking. More than one million Jeep Cherokees were subject to recall when it was determined that the autonomous technology was accessible by hackers. Security specialists determined that hackers could easily access the wireless technology that controlled acceleration, infotainment systems, and windshield wiper function.

Alterations or stickers added to road signs also confuse autonomous technology. In worst case scenarios, the self-driving vehicles may then ignore stop signs or other warnings that require specific actions on the part of vehicle drivers.