Manufacturers say driverless cars will be in stores by 2020, so it's time we wrapped our heads around how they work, and what they might mean for the environment and society.
Prototypes from Nissan, Volvo, Audi and Google use a variety of sensors mounted on the cars to produce a detailed picture of their surroundings. One of the main sensors they use is a type of laser that sends out rapid pulses of non-visible light and measures the time they take to bounce off objects and return. Because light moves at a constant speed, the car’s distance from that object can be calculated and used to build a 3D image of its environment.
The data from this laser is also combined with video and radar sensor information picked up by the car, and is processed by a self-learning, onboard computer that decides when to steer, break, and accelerate.
Which all sounds pretty good, and benefits of this technology have already been identified, such as giving mobility to those who can’t drive traditional cars, and removing the risk of human error, which is the cause of 90 percent of traffic accidents in Australia. But what are the risks? Watch the latest episode of RiAus’s A Week in Science above to find out.