What Are Self-Driving Cars: Complete Explanation

Self-driving cars are also known as autonomous vehicles, robotic or robocars, and driverless cars. Tesla is an example of one of the companies that make these cars, with technology that allows them to move safely with minimal human input. The benefits of these vehicles have shown promise for many industries, including the automotive industry.

These vehicles use different types of sensors to be aware of the surroundings. Some possible future uses for self-driving cars may include taxi or rideshare vehicles and commercial vehicles. Autonomous vehicles available have different levels of autonomy that range from shared autonomy with a driver to vehicles that do not even require steering wheels.

Self-Driving Cars: An exact definition

Self-driving cars drive themselves with minimal to no assistance from a human driver. These vehicles use technology that assists with navigation and parking, using a network of sensors to detect possible obstacles. Most of these vehicles have a price that excludes them from the consumer market for most people.

How do Self-Driving Cars Work?

Even the cheapest self-driving cars have a sophisticated array of features. Although cars that operate entirely independently of humans did not exist as of early 2022, the features that power these cars can achieve this goal. Here are some of the features that provide the benefits of robocars:

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Illustration of the sensing system and wireless communication network of self-driving vehicles. Image: Shutterstock

Lane-Keeping Assist

Lane-keeping assist features help keep vehicles in their proper lanes, although this feature works best on dry, clear roads. This feature uses lane markings and lines on the side of the road to keep the car adequately positioned. When cars start to veer off course, the steering system will help guide the vehicle back into the proper lane.

Hands-Free Capability

Some of the benefits of self-driving cars include hands-free systems, with Tesla being one of the first brands to adopt this technology. In many ways, this feature is similar to cruise control, a popular feature for years. Although self-driving models in early 2022 still required guidance from humans by using the steering column in some circumstances, the goal is for these vehicles to operate without human help eventually.

Automatic Braking

Braking features in self-driving cars use similar technology to existing automatic emergency braking. Sensors, radar, or cameras detect pedestrians, other vehicles, or animals that the vehicle is at risk of colliding with if it does not stop. In cases where an impact is inevitable, the system will slow the momentum for a less severe impact.

How Do You Create Self-Driving Cars?

Autonomous vehicles have much of the same structure and features as other vehicles. Although self-driving cars have a limited place in the consumer market, there are ways that people can create vehicles with self-driving features. Combining the suitable sensors and three critical elements contribute to a car becoming self-driving.

Cars that operate autonomously require sensors using radar or cameras to detect objects that can help prevent collisions. The car’s system will also require compatibility with high-definition maps for mapping locations, state estimators for communication with the sensors, and motion planners to guide the car’s movements. Many newer vehicles support these features, but an expert knowledgeable in how these systems work is necessary for successful implementation.

Where Were Self-Driving Cars Created?

The concept of self-driving cars has been around since the 1920s. Houdina Radio Control designed a radio-controlled car capable of navigating New York City streets in 1925. In the 1930s, Norman Bel Geddes proposed radio-controlled cars powered via electromagnetic fields contained in the roads as an alternative to human drivers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, RCA Labs and Bendex Corporation devised driverless cars that buried cables would operate. During the 1980s, Mercedes-Benz and Carnegie-Mellon University conducted experiments, for a high price tag, that focused on robotic cars. These early robotic vehicles formed the foundations for modern cars with self0driving features.

The military developed self-driving vehicles during the early 2000s, and companies like BMW and Google started testing driverless vehicles between 2005 and 2009. Since several American states allowed autonomous vehicle testing in 2012-2013, the demand for eventual driverless cars has continued to grow. Companies like Tesla have led the way in making the innovations that make self-driving cars work more effectively accessible.

What Are the Application of Self-Driving Cars?

Self-driving cars have a couple of applications that show promise for future use. One application that many see as potentially being in use in the future is automated buses, taxis, and rideshares. Another potential usage is in the transit industry, including last-mile delivery.

China has had success with automated buses in some cities. The UK, Belgium, France, and Italy have also started paving the way for driverless cars to operate on public roads. Advances in artificial intelligence have also made self-driving taxi and rideshare vehicles distinct possibilities.

Automated commercial trucks and vans show promise for local deliveries. A potential goal of companies that produce these vehicles is to make urban deliveries more efficient. In the future, automated vehicles may become the cheapest option for local deliveries.

Examples of Self-Driving Cars In the Real World

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Self-driving Tesla Model S car autopilot with the driver working on laptop & texting on mobile while the car is driving. Image: Shutterstock


The Crysler Pacifica Hybrid and Toyota Prius are the two models most heavily in use. This model is one that Alphabet uses for its Waymo self-driving car technology. Google StreetView technology provides most of the foundations for self-driving technology.


Roborace is an autonomous race car that made its debut between 2016 and 2018. These vehicles operate in a competitive context. However, their teams’ abilities in developing artificial intelligence and real-time algorithms show promise for these cars’ abilities as a whole.

Tesla Autopilot

Tesla Autopilot is a full suite of driver-assistance programs features that range from lane centering to self-parking. This system requires minimal driver intervention. Features such as those found in this system are likely to be present in future self-driving vehicles.

Self-Driving Cars: Pros and Cons

Self-driving cars have pros and cons to consider for making the best choice.

Advanced technology that provides safer rides in different settingsFully autonomous vehicles were not street legal in many areas as of early 2022
Differing autonomy levels are available in many countriesThe price of such vehicles is higher than many prefer to pay
Self-driving features make tasks like parking easierSelf-driving vehicles may not avoid all collisions

Self-Driving Cars Explained: Everything You Need To Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the difference between self-driving cars and partially automated cars?

Self-driving cars require human intervention, while partially automated cars incorporate some automated features while requiring a driver.

What cars are self-driving today?

Most major car brands, including Ford and Lincoln, have at least one model with partially automated features, with the numbers increasing.

How many vehicles are self-driving?

There are more than 20 car models that feature self-driving and otherwise automated features.

Which car has the best self-driving?

Many consider Tesla to offer the best self-driving features of any car brand, despite not being the cheapest option.

How do self-driving cars work?

Self-driving cars use automated features that control lane changes, parking, and other aspects of driving.

Who invented self-driving cars?

The first self-driving cars, which were radio-controlled, were created by Houdina Radio Control in 1925.

When will self-driving cars be common?

Self-driving cars will likely become common by 2030 with advances in artificial intelligence and may replace other vehicles by 2050.

Are self-driving cars safe?

Many estimate that self-driving cars are safer than human drivers, with human error responsible for the majority of crashes.

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