Category Archives: Past Projects

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Safety of Autonomous Vehicles – 1

Sample flow-chart of autonomous vehicles

Sample flow-chart of autonomous vehicles [image from www.oldmanshirt.com]

I wrote this paper as a term paper for Engineering Management 52 at Tufts University. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the safety of autonomous ground vehicles. People can reduce the number of accidents by riding autonomous vehicles instead of human-driven vehicles.

An autonomous vehicle is a car that is able to operate independently from a human, safety driver. In the current autonomous vehicle technology, a safety driver rides in the drivers’ seat so that that he or she can take over control when there are unexpected situations. The safety of autonomous vehicle is measured by its ability to make correct, independent decisions while driving on public roads. To make independent driving decisions, an autonomous vehicle relies on a network of computers instead of a human driver.  The network of computers relies on sensors such as cameras, lasers and radar to perceive the environment accurately.

Some of the first autonomous vehicles to be designed were VaMP and VITA II. They used cameras to navigate urban environments in Germany. After the development of VaMP and VITA II, American researchers further developed autonomous vehicle technology because of opportunities such as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Grand Challenge and Google’s research program. The DARPA Grand Challenge was a series of racing competitions in which DARPA awarded the teams that could design the safest and fastest autonomous vehicles. Google, through its research program, seeks to achieve the same goal of designing the safest and fastest autonomous vehicle.

Results from the DARPA Grand Challenge and Google’s research program imply that autonomous vehicles can safely navigate in deserts and urban environments with little or no help from a safety driver. To safely navigate in their environment, autonomous vehicles use their ability to (1) detect obstacles and road shapes, (2) merge into lanes, (3) communicate with other vehicles and (4) follow electronic drivers’ manuals.

Safety features of autonomous vehicles make autonomous vehicles safer than human drivers. In addition, autonomous vehicles are not prone to the major causes of road accidents such as alcohol intoxication, cellphone distractions and intentional over-speeding. As a result, if people ride autonomous vehicles, the number of accidents will significantly decrease. The use of autonomous vehicles has already been legalized in Nevada and it will not long before many people use them.

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