February 1, 2017

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Bits & Bytes of Self-Driving Car

‘Autonomous Drive = Self Drive’ is the new buzz word all over media in recent times.

Uber partners with Volvo to accelerate their self-drive project, Google Car claims 1.5 million miles of self-driving and Apple’s ‘iCar’ project is on stealth mode, yet it has an estimated R&D budget of $10 billion.

However, the key question is: will it ever be possible to have a car that drives itself? Read on.

Nature has instilled human beings with ‘awareness’ via sensory perception. Our gift, coupled with our ability to learn continuously from our environment, defines our adaptability and survival.

These self-driving cars, in the making, are being equipped with ‘sensor data fusion’ and ‘V2X’ technologies to enable full autonomy. Sensor data fusion equips the self-drive car with a sensory mechanism and ‘V2X’ technology enables continuous communication between the self-driving car and the road infrastructure, seamlessly connected via telecom network.

A typical prototype of a self-drive car or truck is equipped with: sensors, LIDAR (laser image detection and ranging), radar (radio detection and ranging), cameras, GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System, that includes GPS, GLONASS among others) and High Definition Maps.

Self-drive car is a symphony on-wheels orchestrated by complex algorithms coupled with software code. Around 200 million lines of code is required to build a top class luxury car today, the self-drive car will augment this even further.

Asynchronous data from the sensors is analysed using algorithms and response is executed using actuators. Real-time HD maps are visualised on-the-go using Lidar, Radar and cameras. Access to GNSS via the navigation system module provides location co-ordinates while in motion. V2X platform enables data flow from the road infrastructure such as traffic signals, intersections, tolls and parking areas. Direct Short Range Communications (DSRC) allows self-drive cars to talk to each other. DSRC in combination with all other technologies described above prevent collisions and accidents.

The key to success of self-drive cars, may not, fully lie with engineers. We have to also consider, deeply, social factors. In some scenarios, self-drive will empower various sections of our society with greater mobility, for e.g. people with special needs and the elderly of our society.

Smart Cities of the future, will prefer self-drive vehicles to those driven by us. This is because, Smart City communication infrastructure will rely on data flow among all ‘intelligent devices’ and ‘self-drive vehicles’. Steering wheel drive will be seen as an anomaly by the Smart City system. Owning and driving such cars will be seen as a super luxury sport just as it is to own and ride a stallion today.

Its ironical that the invention of the petrol engine automobile in 1886, eliminated the horse from the carriage and the self-drive car will eliminate the ‘driver’ from the carriage, perhaps in 2023. Welcome self-drive!