How do driverless cars work?

Author

James Armstrong

December 24, 2014

With the first UK trials of driverless cars set to begin in January 2015, we take a brief look at what technology is being tested and how a driverless car works

Driverless cars used to be confined to the realm of science fiction, but in January 2015 they will be coming to a road near you.

From reducing the number of accidents, to improving emissions compliance and easing congestion, the driverless revolution is set to begin with trials in four UK locations.

Bristol and Greenwich will be used as venues to examine the challenges of bringing fully automated vehicles on to the UK’s roads. And Coventry and Milton Keynes will also host tests.

Starting in January and lasting for 18 to 36 months, these tests will also analyse the legal and insurance implications of driverless cars.

The driverless technology industry is expected to be worth £900 billion globally by 2025 and is currently growing by 16 per cent a year.

Plus machines are much better at following rules than humans; motorway signs advising drivers to slow down or not change lane to avoid creating jams are often ignored by motorists – not so a computer.

So how do driverless cars work? There are several systems that work in conjunction with each other to control a driverless car.

Radar sensors dotted around the car monitor the position of vehicles nearby.

Video cameras detect traffic lights, read road signs and keep track of other vehicles, while also looking out for pedestrians and other obstacles.

Lidar sensors help to detect the edges of roads and identify lane markings by bouncing pulses of light off the car’s surroundings.

Ultrasonic sensors in the wheels can detect the position of curbs and other vehicles when parking.

Finally, a central computer analyses all of the data from the various sensors to manipulate the steering, acceleration and braking.

This is just the start. As the technology gets cheaper, the driverless car future will increasingly become a reality.

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