What are autonomous vehicles?

Discover all the technology involved in making cars, motorcycles and other means of transport run around without drivers, and understand more about autonomous vehicles.

What are autonomous vehicles?

An autonomous vehicle is a means of transport that does not depend on human drivers to get from one point to another safely. Instead, it uses technology to create maps of your surroundings to accurately locate yourself and make smart decisions behind the wheel.

Although we are far from complete automation, there are already autonomous vehicles out there that give us a taste of what the future of technology could be like. mobility. In fact, walking on a few streets and highways in the United States, Europe and Asia, in testing situations. In Brazil, this future is still is far away, due to legislation, infrastructure and the price of a vehicle with so much technology.

The closest image we have to autonomous vehicles are cars for personal use. But there are already examples of other modes, such as motorcycle, truck, tractor, bus, train It is plane, which have some autonomy to replace humans or to support them when driving.

And there are also small vehicles used in delivery, such as ADA, iFood's intelligent robot, which has already supported deliveries in a shopping mall in Ribeirão Preto (SP) and is now being tested in a condominium in the same city.

How do autonomous vehicles work? 

There are several components that ensure the functioning of an autonomous vehicle. All of this will work so that the car has all the perceptions to guide the direction in a safe way. 

In this way, vehicles work with cameras, sensors and radars that will be a kind of “eyes” of the car. Thus, they will detect obstacles, traffic signs, traffic lights, people, speed bumps, among other factors. 

Furthermore, these vehicles have a series of algorithms that help you direct and see all obstacles. 

Autonomous cars: advantages and disadvantages

One of the biggest advantages of autonomous cars is their safety, as the vehicle scans 360° degrees, seeing more than a human eye. 

Another advantageous factor is the reduction in the emission of polluting gases since these cars are powered by hybrid energy, in addition to having a system that avoids unnecessary recharging. 

On the other hand, autonomous vehicles have some disadvantages. The main one is that it won't be something accessible to everyone at the price these cars will have. 

An electric or hybrid car already has a high price. Therefore, as autonomous companies use even greater technology, the tendency is for the price to increase even more. 

Furthermore, another disadvantage is that many experts see autonomous vehicles as a service, not a property.  

Use of autonomous vehicles in Brazil

Here in Brazil there are already autonomous vehicles in circulation, but nothing that everyone can notice. The most common are hybrid and electric vehicles. 

However, as previously stated, some experts point out that the trend is for these cars to be used as a form of service, not property. 

Finally, there is no concrete data on when these vehicles will become a trend in the country. It is most likely that hybrids and electrics will gain space before autonomous ones.

The technologies that power the autonomous vehicle

Autonomous vehicles need a series of technologies to function, which can be onboard or external, such as:

Sensors, radars and sonars

They allow the vehicle to “read” its surroundings.


They give a sense of depth and allow the vehicle to “see” in environments with little or no light. They also serve as a complement to GPS and facilitate the operation of systems that require maneuvering.

Artificial intelligence

This is what will replace the humans behind the wheel in decision making. A Artificial intelligence captures internal and external data and feeds autonomous vehicle systems (such as lane change or speed controller) to drive them — and also to signal the need for maintenance.

High resolution GPS

They are more advanced than those present in non-autonomous cars: they can take a reading 2 cm from the vehicle (today it is taken between 4 and 5 meters in front of a car).


Important for the transmission of data generated and consumed by the vehicle. 5G, the fifth generation mobile network, must resolve the issue of latency (how long an action takes to be performed once the command is made). With the connection, this response will be faster. Another important point: connectivity must enhance communication between vehicles (V2V) and with existing infrastructure (V2I).

Although important, it does not mean that the internet connection will be vital for the complete autonomy of a vehicle. O MIT Technology Review explains that some cars, like Google's Waymo, will be autonomous even without a connection. 

“The crucial systems are all stored on local computers onboard the car. As these systems perform the same work as humans, that is, they receive information from the road to make decisions, there is no need to extract data from the cloud at every turn”, says an excerpt from the article.

The six levels of autonomy 

Some more sophisticated vehicles already have some level of autonomy to help drivers drive them. They are not autonomous 100%, but they are capable of sharing control with a person, for example, of the steering wheels and pedals. Until full autonomy, there are six levels:

Level 0

No automation. It is the person who has total and sole control over the vehicle.

Level 1 

The vehicle has an advanced driving assistance system (ADAS), which can help drivers with steering or braking and accelerating, but not simultaneously. Example of this type of assistance: speed control, stability and ABS brakes.

Level 2

At this level, ADAS can control steering and pedals simultaneously in some circumstances. A person still needs to remain aware of the environment and take control if the automation fails. Autonomous cars from Tesla and Volvo are at that level.

Level 3  

It has an automated driving system (ADS) that gives the machine control over the act of driving. Human drivers only take control when the vehicle requests it — generally in situations where the technology cannot follow on its own. 

In 2021, Mercedes Benz received authorization to implement a hands-free driving system in Germany, and Honda launched its first car that dispenses drivers in situations of congestion and slow traffic.

Level 4 

This is the high autonomy stage, when the ADS performs all driving and environmental monitoring tasks, that is, it is capable of doing (almost) everything alone. At this level, vehicles still have steering wheels and pedals for a human to take control when (and if) necessary.

Level 5 

It's total autonomy. Here the vehicle performs driving under any circumstances. At this level, people inside the vehicle are considered passengers and are not involved in driving the car.

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