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A self-driving car, also known as an autonomous car, driver-less car, or robotic car (robo-car), is a car that is capable of traveling without human input. Self-driving cars use sensors to perceive their surroundings, such as optical and thermographic cameras, radar, lidar, ultrasound/sonar, GPS, odometry and inertial measurement units. Control systems interpret sensory information to create a three-dimensional model of the vehicle's surroundings. Based on the model, the car then identifies an appropriate navigation path and strategies for managing traffic controls (stop signs, etc.) and obstacles.
Once the technology matures, autonomous vehicles are predicted to impact the automotive industry, health, welfare, urban planning, traffic, insurance, labor market, and other fields. Their regulation is becoming an increasingly important issue.
As of April 2023[update], vehicles operating at Level 3 and above are an insignificant market factor. In December 2020, Waymo became the first service provider to offer driver-less taxi rides to the general public, in a part of Phoenix, Arizona. In March 2021, Honda was the first manufacturer to sell a legally approved Level 3 car. Nuro began autonomous commercial delivery operations in California in 2021. In December 2021, Mercedes-Benz received approval for a Level 3 car. In February 2022, Cruise became the second service provider to offer driver-less taxi rides to the general public, in San Francisco.In December 2022, several manufacturers had scaled back plans for self-driving technology, including Ford and Volkswagen.
Experiments have been conducted on automated driving systems (ADS) since at least the 1920s; trials began in the 1950s. The first semi-automated car was developed in 1977, by Japan's Tsukuba Mechanical Engineering Laboratory, which required specially marked streets that were interpreted by two cameras on the vehicle and an analog computer. The vehicle reached speeds up to 30 kilometres per hour (19 mph) with the support of an elevated rail.
A landmark autonomous car appeared in the 1980s, with Carnegie Mellon University's Navlab and ALV projects funded by the United States' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) starting in 1984 and Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich's EUREKA Prometheus Project in 1987. By 1985, the ALV had demonstrated self-driving speeds on two-lane roads of 31 kilometres per hour (19 mph), with obstacle avoidance added in 1986, and off-road driving in day and night time conditions by 1987. A major milestone was achieved in 1995, with Carnegie Mellon University's Navlab 5 completing the first autonomous coast-to-coast drive of the United States. Of the 2,849 mi (4,585 km) between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and San Diego, California, 2,797 mi (4,501 km) were autonomous (98.2%), completed with an average speed of 63.8 mph (102.7 km/h). From the 1960s through the second DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005, automated vehicle research in the United States was primarily funded by DARPA, the US Army, and the US Navy, yielding incremental advances in speeds, driving competence in more complex conditions, controls, and sensor systems. Companies and research organizations have developed prototypes.
The US allocated US$650 million in 1991 for research on the National Automated Highway System, which demonstrated automated driving through a combination of automation embedded in the highway with automated technology in vehicles, and cooperative networking between the vehicles and with the highway infrastructure. The programme concluded with a successful demonstration in 1997 but without clear direction or funding to implement the system on a larger scale. Partly funded by the National Automated Highway System and DARPA, the Carnegie Mellon University Navlab drove 4,584 kilometres (2,848 mi) across America in 1995, 4,501 kilometres (2,797 mi) or 98% of it autonomously. Navlab's record achievement stood unmatched for two decades until 2015, when Delphi improved it by piloting an Audi, augmented with Delphi technology, over 5,472 kilometres (3,400 mi) through 15 states while remaining in self-driving mode 99% of the time. In 2015, the US states of Nevada, Florida, California, Virginia, and Michigan, together with Washington, DC, allowed the testing of automated cars on public roads.
From 2016 to 2018, the European Commission funded an innovation strategy development for connected and automated driving through the Coordination Actions CARTRE and SCOUT. Moreover, the Strategic Transport Research and Innovation Agenda (STRIA) Roadmap for Connected and Automated Transport was published in 2019.
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In November 2017, Waymo announced that it had begun testing driver-less cars without a safety driver in the driver position; however, there was still an employee in the car. An October 2017 report by the Brookings Institution found that $80 billion had been reported as invested in all facets of self driving technology up to that point, but that it was "reasonable to presume that total global investment in autonomous vehicle technology is significantly more than this".
In October 2018, Waymo announced that its test vehicles had traveled in automated mode for over 10,000,000 miles (16,000,000 km), increasing by about 1,000,000 miles (1,600,000 kilometres) per month. In December 2018, Waymo was the first to commercialize a fully autonomous taxi service in the US, in Phoenix, Arizona. In October 2020, Waymo launched a geo-fenced driver-less ride hailing service in Phoenix. The cars are being monitored in real-time by a team of remote engineers, and there are cases where the remote engineers need to intervene.
On 5 March 2021, Honda began leasing in Japan a limited edition of 100 Legend Hybrid EX sedans equipped with the newly approved Level 3 automated driving equipment which had been granted the safety certification by Japanese government to their autonomous "Traffic Jam Pilot" driving technology, and legally allow drivers to take their eyes off the road.
In 2014, such confusion was documented in SAE J3016 which states that "some vernacular usages associate autonomous specifically with full driving automation (Level 5), while other usages apply it to all levels of driving automation, and some state legislation has defined it to correspond approximately to any ADS [automated driving system] at or above Level 3 (or to any vehicle equipped with such an ADS)."
Modern vehicles provide features such as keeping the car within its lane, speed controls, or emergency braking. Those features alone are just considered as driver assistance technologies because they still require a human driver control while fully automated vehicles drive themselves without human driver input.
For this reason, some organizations such as the AAA try to provide standardized naming conventions for features such as ALKS which aim to have capacity to manage the driving task, but which are not yet approved to be an automated vehicles in any countries. The Association of British Insurers considers the usage of the word autonomous in marketing for modern cars to be dangerous because car ads make motorists think "autonomous" and "autopilot" mean a vehicle can drive itself when they still rely on the driver to ensure safety. Technology able to drive a car is still in its beta stage.
Some car makers suggest or claim vehicles are self-driving when they are not able to manage some driving situations. Despite being called Full Self-Driving, Tesla stated that its offering should not be considered as a fully autonomous driving system. This makes drivers risk becoming excessively confident, taking distracted driving behavior, leading to crashes. While in Great-Britain, a fully self-driving car is only a car registered in a specific list. There have also been proposals to adopt the aviation automation safety knowledge into the discussions of safe implementation of autonomous vehicles, due to the experience that has been gained over the decades by the aviation sector on safety topics.
Autonomous means self-governing. Many historical projects related to vehicle automation have been automated (made automatic) subject to a heavy reliance on artificial aids in their environment, such as magnetic strips. Autonomous control implies satisfactory performance under significant uncertainties in the environment, and the ability to compensate for system failures without external intervention.
One approach is to implement communication networks both in the immediate vicinity (for collision avoidance) and farther away (for congestion management). Such outside influences in the decision process reduce an individual vehicle's autonomy, while still not requiring human intervention.
As of 2017[update], most commercial projects focused on automated vehicles that did not communicate with other vehicles or with an enveloping management regime. Euro NCAP defines autonomous in "Autonomous Emergency Braking" as: "the system acts independently of the driver to avoid or mitigate the accident", which implies the autonomous system is not the driver.
In Europe, the words automated and autonomous might be used together. For instance, Regulation (EU) 2019/2144 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 November 2019 on type-approval requirements for motor vehicles (...) defines "automated vehicle" and "fully automated vehicle" based on their autonomous capacity:
In British English, the word automated alone might have several meaning, such in the sentence: "Thatcham also found that the automated lane keeping systems could only meet two out of the twelve principles required to guarantee safety, going on to say they cannot, therefore, be classed as 'automated driving', instead it claims the tech should be classed as "assisted driving".": The first occurrence of the "automated" word refers to an Unece automated system, while the second occurrence refers to the British legal definition of an automated vehicle. The British law interprets the meaning of "automated vehicle" based on the interpretation section related to a vehicle "driving itself" and an insured vehicle.