Service Robots

Self Driving Cars are Just Robots with Four Wheels

Looking for a new address where you want to travel on a huge touchscreen with internet connection, sit more comfortably in the seat that can be adjusted in infinite positions and press the start button – a futuristic scenario which regarded through the lens of new technologies in prototyping stage will become reality in the coming years. BMW, Audi, DARPA or Google are only four big names who invest time and money in new intelligent cars, autonomous vehicles – intelligent robots with four wheels. In the following years electric cars technologies will be improved and will open a wide door for a new generation of cars without drivers. Electric power is preferred by most entities who invest time and money to develop intelligent machines, something that can be understood as the future belongs to them. Bits used to control the car will take care of the passengers to reach their destination safely and in the shortest time. The reduction or even elimination of any car driving mistakes will have a positive effect on the number of accidents which in turn will be reduced or will be removed. To build a self driving car engineers use a long list of sensors and software including GPS, laser technology, or operating systems that can control the flow of information and parallel processes running.

Road authorities from different European countries or the North American continent have taken notice of these new intelligent cars and allowed the testing of models on the streets with heavy traffic. In this article we try to expose most projects aimed to build self driving cars, projects belonging to famous companies from the automotive industry or some giant companies with completely different fields of activity than robots but who have vision and will become part of the future.


Google car is perhaps the most advanced self driving car, a technological advance in automotive that has drawn praise and a large number of articles in print or online. The Google car is a prototype from the future and comes to ransack people’s imagination who have the opportunity to watch it in action on the streets of U.S.

Google Lexus Self Driving Car

The tests were started on a Toyota Prius, but Google has moved the technology into a slightly larger car – Lexus RX450h hybrid. The car has driven so far a record number of 300,000 miles. Even if at some point the Google car (at that time a Toyota Prius) went through an accident, a human error was the primary cause and not the robot car. This case confirms once again that humans can cause errors even surrounded by advanced technology.

The Google robot includes a long list of sensors, GPS antennae, LIDAR sensor and artificial intelligence software that combines images from cameras and Google Street View to recognize traffic lights and street signs. Until now Google cars had two human partners in tests and the next step is to use the rear seats of cars by humans.


Researchers at BMW are working on the car of the future which drives itself, an autonomous system based on BMW’s ConnectedDrive Connect (CDC). The eyes of the car are composed of four kinds of sensor systems including radar, cameras, laser scanners and ultrasonics.

BMW self driving prototype

Researchers are trying to maintain the silhouette of the car and not to bring substantial changes in the design. Hiding sensors was a difficult task considering that their operation involves a wide open visibility without interference. With a high accuracy, of a few centimeters, engineers have developed an algorithm that controls all car movements in accordance with road legislations. So far the car has 5000 Km driven on the roads of Germany in fully automated way, such research resulted in improvements of technology which will be installed in future BMW self driving vehicles and to improve the existing assistive technologies.

DARPA Ford SUV hybrid

I could say that Ford ByWire XGV is the first self driving car which can be bought. The car is available at the price of $89,000 and can be used as a research platform. The link with DARPA is due to competition sponsored by the U.S. agency where the car finished on the third place.

Ford ByWire XGV

Ford ByWire has a design based on reliability, safety, cost-effectiveness, and performance. All of these features led to the development of three main systems: drive-by-wire, safety and power. Drive-by-wire is used to control the car and is deeply integrated with the Hybrid Escape factory electronics and provides electronic control of the steering, throttle, shifter, braking and signals. The safety system is used for safe emergency stop and the power system can be used for supplying power options. This is a great platform for researchers and developers of self driving vehicles used in future.

Audi TTS

In laboratories of German car manufacturer Audi is prepared the future of cars, a robot car that rises to the height of the four overlapping circles and welcomes when you look at the car. Audi’s technology is based on communication between vehicles engaged in traffic. Researchers use a 5.9-GHz wireless radio system to share traffic information. This technology can be used to send warning messages to other vehicles in traffic.

Audi TTS self driving car

The Audi TTS prototype can feel the location and direction of vehicles around it through lateral sensors when the vehicle speed is low. Features include two radar sensors with 21 degree scanning angle, a wide-angle video camera, and eight ultrasonic sensors. When I think about the future car from Audi in my mind come images from the “I, Robot” movie with Will Smith.


Cybergo is an electric self driving, complete car without driver. The car is designed to be used by a total of up to 8 people, like a minibus. The car is fully robotic and can detect with sensors and lasers obstacles and people around. First, the car will be used on a small scale, within an industrial park. The maximum speed is up to 20 km/h, a safe speed for a complete car driven by a computer.


Unlike other more advanced cars, e.g. Google car, Cybergo can drive only on certain specified routes initially. The route is chosen by the user and finally the car returns to the starting point. The comfort is not at high standards due to reduced size of the car, so that passengers are forced to stand up.


Imagine you are sitting on one of the car seats and look out the window at how the world moves around. This scenario is possible if you are in the AutoNOMOS robot car. This VW Passat robot was tested in Germany, a project started at the University of Berlin.


The car is equipped with a multiple of sensors and an intelligent GPS system. The GPS system recognizes the position of the car and together with data from laser scanners analyzes the traffic situations and takes decisions that lead to a smooth and safe traffic. Every motion is detected by the robot car through an accelerometer sensor, a gyroscope and a heat sensor. In recent tests the problem of road sign and traffic lights detection was solved. If now everyone talks about electric cars, the future certainly belongs to cars that drive themselves.

Robot car from University of Parma

An answer on how far you can reach with a car that drives itself can come from University of Parma’s researchers. I must admit that those who have dealt with this project have high ambitions, a car that drives autonomously from Italy to China. With a long list of sensors, 4 laser scanners, cameras, an intelligent program and a powerful computer this car may be a perfect robot to drive safe for long distances.

University of Parma’s robotic car

Maximum speed is around 64 Km/h (40 miles/h), a speed which requires three months to travel between Italy and China. Due to this long distance the car has been tested in various climates, high and low temperatures, and various traffic conditions.

Mercedes Benz

From this article could I not miss Mercedes Benz and thus it stands to reason. The German company is testing technology for it own limousines to drive autonomously. The plan is to introduce these technologies by 2013. The autonomous system will be installed on S-class cars and can be used at speeds over 40 Km/h, but is not as advanced so that a driver is required. Using the same principle as a radar cruise control the car uses a series of cameras and sensors to maintain an optimal distance in relation to the front car. The company is committed to developing technologies that will allow cars to drive themselves.

Mercedes Benz S-class


Volvo’s cars are recognized worldwide for their safety and the cars of the future will be the safest vehicles thanks to their transformation into intelligent robots. Volvo project consists of a car which tracks the movements of the car in front, allowing the driver to relax during the trip. The prototype drives autonomously and communicates with the car in front through wireless technology. Sensors are used to measure the distance between vehicles and inform the computers of the car to keep a constant distance between the vehicle in front and back.

Volvo SARTRE concept

The goal of this project is to make the cars safe and more eco-friendly by using a smaller amount of fuel thanks to maintaining constant speeds for a long time.
Like Mercedes Benz the Swedish company endeavors to make cars safer by using these autonomous systems in future versions of existing models.


Robotics and automotive domains are no longer completely distinct, we live a world that needs intelligent robots to reduce accidents, prevent driver error and offer the option of leisure while on the road. The future is already mapped out by companies like Google, BMW, Audi or research agencies like DARPA.



Dragos George is an IT analyst who graduated Faculty of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, specialization Industrial Automation and Informatics with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering, Automation and Computer Science. He has a great passion for robots and web development.

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