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Saturday, 2 June 2012

Self-driving Cars - Initial Review

We are back! Today we will do an initial review of the latest in Car technology - Self-driving cars. Why today? Well, today is a great day in Car Technology History, the first ever self-driving car was tested to the road officially just a few days back, Volvo drove its three fully self driven cars and a truck in Barcelona, Spain. Also, the state of California has approved this technology for road use today, so you are bound to see a lot of these on the road very soon.

The technology is not new to car manufacturers though, its been there for quite a long time, infact some of you may have recollected that this technology in its initial stages was banned from F1 because it was making everything so automated that drivers may soon not be required. Moving on, let me quickly show you how this works.

This technology majorly works based on sensors. It has some basic protocols (rules) and commands stored in a processing unit that continuously measures and processes data live to make sure the car drives perfectly. It has four major types of sensors mounted which help guide the vehicle. I will not talk about the technical aspects of these here but more on what they really do which is much more important.

Radars: This technology is in use in most of our vehicles in the market. The radars act as sensors which guide the vehicle while parking and during accidents when it helps you brake on time. The new advance version of this technology is majorly used to calculate average speed of vehicles around the Car, so that it can drive at that speed. Also, it does the above functionality to act as a device for safety. There are four of these on-board two front and two rear. They are essential devices that help the car function without a driver. They also have an inbuilt mechanism on-board that helps the car drive itself even when one front and one rear Radar is lost.

Laser: There is usually a laser device mounted on top of the car, the 64 beam device produces three and a half measurements a second. It identifies vehicles, objects, humans and animals around it. This is a critical component as it helps the inbuilt computer sense the objects and is the eye of the car. It detects objects and the road in all directions from the car in one go, three times a second.

GPS: Nothing too fancy about this GPS. Just like any other positioning system, it helps get directions. The only difference is that the human does not get directions now, instead the car does. You think that's difficult, its actually easier because the computer translates the code for humans but for another electronic device that does not need human responses, digital signals are the way to go and are easy to interpret and translate. What that means is that you can tell your car that you need to go to office and sit back & read a newspaper while it gets you there.

Wheel Encoder: This is a device that sits directly on the wheel, its a little different from the regular ones we use in our cars to measure speed. What it does is that it detects not just the speed but the direction in which the wheel is going. This wheel encoder helps the computer use the steering and checks the direction. The front two encoders are for steering while the rear check speed especially to make sure a vehicle is at a right speed for a turn measuring friction, slip and climbing ramps.

These were the most amusing devices that are essential for self-driving cars. However, Volvo's test cars were different from this technology. They used something totally different. In their test they had a truck driven by an actual person leading the group of four self driven vehicles. The self-driven vehicles just imitated the speed, steering, braking and basically everything that the leading truck did. This technology is not a very practical solution for everyday cars. So, we did not mention it in the beginning. You can find the Volvo test video and the other self-driven car video below. You can see that the truck in the front is driven by a human and the rest by bots

Tomorrow we will be doing an exciting post on one of the pioneers of internet history. Keep connected and enjoy the day!

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