Self-driving cars have been in the news a lot this past year. As manufacturers come closer to developing road-ready fully autonomous vehicles, consumers are questioning their safety and wondering: how do self-driving cars work?

In order to classify self-driving cars, The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined the five levels of autonomy. Most of the cars on the road today are level two vehicles, but level five prototypes are being tested, and industry experts predict level four autonomous vehicles could be on the road in the next decade.

The levels of autonomy for self-driving cars:

Level One: Driver Assistance

The car can do simple jobs, like accelerating, braking and steering. Most vehicles on the road today are level one.

Level Two: Partial Automation

Two or more automated functions, like cruise control and AEB, can work simultaneously.

Level Three: Conditional Automation

The car can drive itself in some situations, but the driver needs to be ready to take over at any moment.

Level Four: High Automation

The car can drive itself in certain scenarios.

Level Five: Full Automation

The vehicle is fully autonomous in all conditions and scenarios.

Manufacturers like Tesla and Waymo are competing to be the leaders in the race toward road safe level five autonomous cars, but nearly every manufacturer is developing some technology for the autonomous future.

It seems to anyone who follows technology news that driverless cars will inevitably become the norm, but the average consumer is wary.

Even though self-driving cars may seem scary, they do have benefits, including improved safety for passengers.

Benefits of self-driving cars include:

  • More time for commuters – Self-driving cars would allow passengers to use their commute time for work or pleasure.
  • Better safety – Well-built driverless cars, with backup systems in place could eliminate human error-the number one cause of accidents-and save saving lives
  • Decreased carbon emissions – Most driverless cars will run off electric energy. As long as the batteries are charged with clean energy, carbon emissions will be drastically reduced.
  • More independence for people with disabilities and seniors – Driverless cars would give people who cannot drive the ability to travel independently.
  • Less traffic – Self-driving cars can be programmed to allow three to four car lengths in front of them, providing room for other cars to change lanes and traffic to flow more smoothly on highways.

One thing that will help bring buyers on board is continued exposure to autonomous vehicles. As AVs garner more attention and receive more media coverage, it could help consumers to become more comfortable with the idea of riding in one. We’ll also likely see rideshare services like Uber adding self-driving cars to its fleet, exposing customers not only to news about driverless cars but with the experience of riding in one.

Education will also help people accept self-driving cars. Although AVs can seem like something out of a science fiction movie, the technology at a high level is fairly simple to understand.

Car experts at The Zebra have created this infographic that illustrates the foundational technologies of these cars of the future. Have a look below.

How self-driving cars work?
How self-driving cars work? Source: The Zebra. Please include attribution to The Zebra with this graphic.
Molly Nevins
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