Autonomous vehicles – latest developments

Autonomous vehicle

Autonomous vehicles are an important ITGS topic. This week we were studying the 2018 IB Computer Science case study, which focuses on autonomous cars. Of course the more technical aspects of the computer science case study are not relevant to ITGS. However, many of the examples we researched this week do relate to the HL Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Expert Systems topic. There are also clear links to Business and Employment in Strand 2, as one of the subtopics there is Transportation.

I’ve posted about driverless vehicles several times before (The Great Robot Race, Dawn of the Driverless Car). However, this is an area of technology that is advancing rapidly so an update might be useful.

Society of Automotive Engineers

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) have a six point scale to describe levels of vehicle automation. These levels range from “No automation”, through “Conditional automation”, to “Full automation”. It is interesting to discuss students’ experiences of their family’s vehicles, the driver assistance features they have, and how they might be improved through further automation. This is particularly interesting if students are old enough to drive themselves…

SAE vehicle autonomy scale

Singapore Autonomous Vehicles Initiative

The Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (SAVI) are developing a driverless vehicle which they hope will be used as a taxi. They are working in conjunction with the startup company NuTonomy. The excellent video below shows a visualization of the data collected by the vehicle’s sensors. The system is able to detect and track objects including other vehicles, pedestrians, and road hazards.


Homer – Driverless taxi

Homer is a self driving taxi developed by a small team of engineers at Voyage. They retrofitted a Ford Fusion with the sensors and other equipment needed to turn the car into an autonomous vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles
Homer, an autonomous taxi

Voyage’s website has lots of information and excellent diagrams, including the story of how Homer was built and a look at the core computing systems. There are also more in-depth explanations, such as this guide to LIDAR, which covers the technology at a perfect level for ITGS. The diagrams on these pages are excellent and really aid understanding.

Autonomous vehicle overview



Tesla autonomous vehicles are an interesting example. The company claim all of their vehicles have “full self-driving hardware”, but legal issues currently prevent it from being fully deployed. This highlights an issue we come across in ITGS frequently: new technologies develop and either make existing laws obsolete, or find themselves hampered by those laws.

Tesla’s website includes a great video that shows camera data from multiple positions overlaid with sensor and other data. Unfortunately the video cannot be embedded, so to view it (highly recommended) you will need to visit their page. The same page has diagrams and explanations of the various sensors the cars use.

Tesla autonomous vehicles

RoboRace – Formula E

FIA Formula E (electric racing cars) have branched out to try driverless racing cars. The project is called RoboRace. Their original plan was to race 20 of these cars in the 2017-2018 season, but the technology has not yet advanced far enough. You can read a little about the car’s hardware, and watch a video of two cars in action (the fun stuff starts at 0.35).


Google Driverless Vehicle

Although the Google driverless car is already well known, I’m including it here because of the excellent video below. Presented by Chris Urmson, it has some great visualizations of the world autonomous vehicles ‘see’. After discussing possible road hazards with my class, we watched the video. We were all surprised to see a number of hazards we hadn’t even thought about: cones in the road, police cars, and cyclists going through red lights. These (hopefully) unusual conditions really highlight the difficulty of designing a car to drive itself.

Finally, 10 Technologies that power Google’s driverless car is a nice visual guide that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Autonomous vehicles - latest developments
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Autonomous vehicles - latest developments
Autonomous vehicles are an important ITGS topic, linking to HL AI and Business & Management. Read about the latest developments in driverless technology.
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Stuart Gray
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