Knowledge Box

Vol. 2 Robotic cars and sensing technology bring us closer to autonomous driving

People, things, and information linked by networks—this is the age of the cloud. Along with the advancement of ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) and telematics, automobiles and roads are increasingly networked as well, and the development of autonomous driving systems is progressing at a rapid pitch in various locations around the world. One of the key technologies towards the realization of safe and pleasant autonomous driving is sensing technology that allows precise acquisition of vehicle position and peripheral information. Various kinds of highly sensitive and efficient sensors taking the place of the five human senses, along with information processing technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are indispensable for the emergence of the robotic car.

The robotic car of the near future—a mobile office and mobile living room

The convenience of not having to drive oneself is not the only advantage of a robotic car. The number of people killed in traffic accidents worldwide exceeds one million. About half of these are pedestrians or persons riding a bicycle or motorbike, and a large percentage of accidents are caused by human error. With an autonomous driving system that constantly monitors and scans the situation around the vehicle, failure by the driver to notice something, wrong assumptions, overconfidence in one's driving abilities and other types of human errors can be avoided, which should result in a drastic reduction in the number of traffic accidents.

Advances made in the areas of sensing technology and information processing are of great significance with a view towards making robotic cars a reality. Some automobiles already incorporate ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control) systems that can maintain a proper distance from a preceding car, automatic braking systems for collision avoidance, lane keeping assist systems, and other assistive features that partially approach the realm of autonomous driving.

Robotic cars have currently reached the level where experiments are being carried out on public roads, with practical realization being targeted for the second half of 2020s. The cars of the near future are envisioned to be more like moving offices and moving living rooms. Once autonomous driving is also realized for trucks, the patterns of motorization and goods distribution are bound to undergo a major change.