Have you seen or heard of the movie Transformers? It opens the door to a world where robots are in command. Robotic cars are entertaining, but can they really exist?
Over the last few years, big companies like Google, Tesla, Mercedes, and recently even Uber, have been investing in the development of self-driven cars via artificial intelligence and machine learning. This means that they are developing cars where a human does not need to be steering the car or pressing the accelerator to speed up, or the brakes to go slower.
What is artificial intelligence? Artificial Intelligence is software that allows computers to do jobs that humans usually do. It involves gathering and analysing data. Sort of like in school when you are given a comprehension test—you read the passage and then answer questions related to that passage.
Machine Learning is a part of artificial intelligence. It is when a machine is given data so it can learn from it. We are used to computer systems where we can ask them to do certain things for us – like do some calculations, or tell us directions from one point to another. With machine learning, like in Google Maps, the computer learns that you go a certain route most days, it stores that, and then when you are going somewhere next, and you start typing in the search box, it will give you suggestions based on your previous patterns. If you choose something else, it will learn from that too and keep that as another place you like to go to.
It is this aspect of artificial intelligence that companies are using to develop self-driven cars also known as driverless cars or vehicles.
How do self-driven cars or trucks work? There are sensors placed around the car. These sensors record data while the car is moving, when it is stationary, when it is challenged by someone darting in front of it, and in many other scenarios. The artificial intelligence software then basically creates internal maps of the vehicle’s surroundings, and records and analyses what the responses to various situations can be. The idea is for the cars to be able to learn how to weave through traffic as well as to recognize the other vehicles and objects on the road.
What kind of sensors are these? Uber’s prototype (first version) uses 64 laser beams as well as other sensors to develop internal maps, while Google has many prototypes that use different technologies—lasers, solar, high-powered cameras.
Auto piloted planes and ships are also being developed.
How does this impact us? Though this is amazing technology, it is still very new. Safety is a mega concern. Some believe that a human being must always be present in self-driven vehicles, while others argue that machines once developed will make less errors and accidents than humans. Then there are other people who are concerned that this would mean a large loss of jobs for people working as drivers of various vehicles.
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Here is a cool video that shows what BMW wants to design as its driverless car – check out how this car senses and learns!
Written by: Tanika Thacker