Situational awareness is the key to good driving. To navigate cars to the desired destination, drivers need to know their locations and observe their surroundings in real time. These observations allow the driver to take actions instinctively such as accelerate or brake, change lanes, merge onto the highway, and maneuver around obstacles and objects.
Fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) work in much the same way, except they use sensor and GPS technologies to perceive the environment and plan a path to the desired destination. These technologies work together to establish the location of the car and the correct route to take. They continuously determine what is going on around the car, locating the position of people and objects in close proximity to the vehicle, and assessing the speed and direction of their movements.
The constant flow of information into the car’s onboard computer system decides the safest way to navigate safely within its surroundings. To better understand how sensor technologies in autonomous cars work, let’s examine how these vehicles perceive their location and environment to identify and avoid objects in their pathways.
Precisely Measuring the Vehicle’s Location and Surroundings
Sensor technologies provide information about the surrounding environment to the vehicle’s computer system, allowing the car to move safely in our three-dimensional world. These sensors gather data that describe a car’s changes in position and orientation.
Autonomous vehicles utilize high-definition maps that guide the car’s navigation system. Recent developments in AV technology aim to generate and update these maps in real-time. While this is still a work in progress, it is necessary because the conditions of our roadways are not static. Congestion, accidents, and construction complicate real-life movement on our streets and highways. On-vehicle sensing technologies, such as lidar, cameras, and radar, perceive the environment in real-time to provide accurate data of these ever-changing roadway situations.
The real-time maps that these sensors produce are often highly detailed, including road lanes, pavement edges, shoulders, dividers, and other critical information. These maps include additional information, such as the locations of street lights, utility poles, and traffic signs. The vehicle must be aware of each of these features to navigate the roadway safely.