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Autonomous Cars: A Beginner’s Guide for 2019 and Beyond

What you should know.

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As digital technologies improve, particularly platforms that empower connected cars, many are wondering if autonomous cars are finally here to stay. Since Google first began testing self-driving cars in 2009, the public has waited in anticipation for the first real-world autonomous car. 

And it seems like the wait is nearly over. Several futuristic startups and car manufacturers are promising the completion of fully autonomous technology by 2020. Others have made even bolder predictions, anticipating self-driving features to be available on consumer cars by the end of 2019. 

Countries are also accelerating the adoption of autonomous cars. Dubai, for example, has developed an automotive innovation conference to highlight the opportunities that autonomous vehicle technology brings while addressing transport challenges faced by global cities. 

But a self-driving car is not the same as a fully autonomous one. There are vast differences to consider. As the race toward a fully autonomous car enters its final lap, here is what you need to know. 

Understanding the different levels of automation 

Before autonomous abilities completely transform the automotive environment, it’s important to understand that there are different levels of autonomy. While often considered interchangeable, the term “self-driving” differs from “autonomous.” 

Autonomous cars refer to the full scope of automated driving. Self-driving cars strictly refer to fully realized automated driving. Certain characteristics found in self-driving cars are not realized by autonomous cars. 

To completely understand the difference between the two terms, SAE International has created a taxonomy for automated driving. In this classification system, there are six levels of driving automation. 

The base definitions of autonomous cars, as defined by SAE International, are as follows: 

Level 0 (No Automation): The full-time performance and the dynamic driving task of the vehicle are fully dependent on the human driver. 

Level 1 (Driver Assistance): A driver assistance system, controlling small steering and acceleration/deceleration tasks, provides support to the human driver. 

Level 2 (Partial Automation): Certain driving capabilities (advanced cruise control, for example) can automatically be executed using the information of the driving environment, but the human driver must still execute key dynamic driving tasks. 

Level 3 (Conditional Automation): The vehicle is capable of managing certain aspects of the dynamic driver task, but in the event of failure, human intervention is required. 

Level 4 (High Automation): The vehicle can complete all dynamic driver tasks without human intervention, although this is defined by selection conditions and factors (geographic area, road type, speed limitations, etc.) 

Level 5 (Full Automation): A fully realized self-driving car capable of complete driverless operation under all operating conditions and on any road type. 

Empowering technology 

Autonomous cars require specific driverless technology to maintain full operational capabilities regardless of operating conditions. Similar to a human driver, a self-driving car must be able to communicate between vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-environment while traveling at all speeds safely. 

Self-driving cars must rely on a burgeoning ecosystem that uses different software and technology to monitor the driving environment without human driver intervention. 

The most important technologies that automated cars require include: 

  • Internet of Things (IoT) 
  • 5G and Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) 
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) 
  • Big Data and Machine Learning 
  • Blockchain 
  • Telematics 
  • Cloud platforms 

Each of these technologies is essential to building a connected infrastructure that can interact with the driving environment with zero disruption. Safety is crucial in self-driving cars as fully automated vehicles will come with no steering wheel or gas pedal. 

The impact of self-driving cars 

It is expected that once self-driving cars are commercially viable, massive rollouts of these vehicles will impact certain industries. 

Many experts predict that traffic accidents will drop dramatically. This will heavily affect the auto parts and auto repair industry as self-driving cars will eliminate most collisions, reducing demand for these types of services. Improved safety on the road will also impact auto insurance and translate to fewer emergency room visits. 

In addition, car ownership is expected to decline with the rollout of self-driving cars. At the same time, the ride-sharing economy will increase in demand with self-driver cars. Passengers can simply request a vehicle to arrive at their destination through a ride-sharing program. 

With the sharing economy on the rise, consumer services such as media, entertainment, and retail are expected to increase in consumption. With passengers no longer needing to sit the wheel, there will be more opportunities to consume content, leading to greater content monetization. 

The road to the future 

The takeover of self-driving cars might nearly be here. But, software capabilities and advancements in technology are just one half of the solution. Cities, policymakers, and the public’s trust may become the main barriers to adoption. 

Dubai’s self-driving exhibition presents opportunities for auto manufacturers, tech companies, and think tanks to showcase the potential of the future of self-driving cars to an international audience of key stakeholders. 

These exhibitions will be necessary for building widespread acceptance, increasing public education, and demystifying the reality of self-driving cars. 


Ahmed Bahrozyan is the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Transport Agency – Roads and Transport Authority in the United Arab Emirates which is responsible for providing for the needs of public transport in the city. He is also Chairperson of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport organizing committee. 

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