Driverless Cars: What they Are and What they Are Not

I’m realizing that I’m writing about driverless cars and yet I haven’t explicitly defined them. Driverless cars, or autonomous cars or self-driving cars, are all referring to the same thing (side note: I’m focusing my research on passenger cars; however, the definition applies to trucks as well). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines autonomous vehicles as follows: “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip.” Autonomous vehicles can be occupied or not.

Everything about that definition may seem extremely obvious; however, autonomous vehicles are often confused with other similar technologies:

  • Vehicles with function-specific automation, or vehicles that have one or even a few functions that are automatic. Examples include self-parking assist, cruise control, etc.;
  • Connected vehicles, or vehicles that rely on information from other vehicles (V2V) or infrastructure (V2I);
  • Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), or any other vehicle that relies on fixed guideway
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), which are aircraft that are not necessarily autonomous

I’d like to give an Autonomous Vehicles 101 session to all of the media outlets so these don’t keep getting mixed up!

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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