What You Don't Already Know About Autonomous Driving

The Future is Here


Autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles will one day become the norm. Although this was once a futuristic ideal, we are now on the brink of that reality. Developing technologies  bring us one step closer to a driverless experience. An autonomous vehicle senses its environment and operates without any involvement from a driver. 

How it works 

Autonomous vehicles use sensors and cameras to create a map of their surroundings. This allows the software to determine what the car will do on the road [1]. This means an autonomous vehicle is always paying attention to its ever-changing surroundings.  

The following are some key terms related to autonomous driving: 

  • Radar sensors: Monitor for vehicles around the car. 

  • Lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors: Uses pulses of light to measure distances, detect lanes, and the edge of the road. 

  • Ultrasonic sensors (in wheels): Detects vehicles and curbs when parking. 

  • Video cameras: Detects pedestrians, traffic lights and road signs. 

  • Actuator: the component that controls the movement of a system or mechanism 

Using these sensors, the car uses programmed software to process the information it receives and instructs the cars actuators  to steer, accelerate and brake [3]. 


Autonomous vehicles face many challenges from technological, environmental, and legislative factors. There are also ethical challenges to be considered [2]. 


The technologies used in autonomous vehicles face their own challenges from reliability of the sensors to how the sensors work together with other autonomous vehicles. There is always the possibility of faulty parts or buggy programs that could limit the car’s ability to drive safely and sense its surroundings. 


The environmental challenge with self-driving cars  are the weather and road conditions. Will the sensors be able to operate properly if the road conditions are poor? The sensors may not be able to detect the surroundings properly if there is interference from the weather.  


The politics behind autonomous driving raises a lot of questions. How exactly will it work to have autonomous vehicles on the road? Who will be held accountable if the car is involved in an accident? These are some of the biggest challenges faced with the development and implementation of autonomous vehicles. 

Autonomoose Driving at UW 

UW has its own hand in the autonomous driving world. The program is called “Autonomoose“ and the facility is called AVRIL (Autonomous Vehicle Research and Information Laboratory). 

""Autonomoose" is a collaboration between WISE Lab and WAVE Lab to build the University of Waterloo's self-driving research platform. The result is the "UW Moose": the first self-driving car built in Canada to drive on public roads." [4]



The future of autonomous vehicles is still unknown. The technology has overcomed most of the challenges that are faced by the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles. We are now in a position to wonder when and if we will ever see the streets filled with self-driving cars. The technologies that have been developed and are currently being used can absolutely change the driving experience. We will continue to see the technologies be developed and implemented in our vehicles. 


[1] What is an Autonomous Car? – How Self-Driving Cars Work. (n.d.). Retrieved July 06, 2020, from https://www.synopsys.com/automotive/what-is-autonomous-car.html 

[2] Person. (2016, August 10). A Brief History of Autonomous Vehicle Technology. Retrieved July 06, 2020, from https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2016/03/a-brief-history-of-autonomous-vehicle-technology/ 

[3] Actuators: What is it, definition, types and how does it work. (n.d.). Retrieved July 06, 2020, from https://www.progressiveautomations.ca/pages/actuators 

[4] University of Waterloo. (2020, June 10). Autonomoose. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://uwaterloo.ca/waterloo-intelligent-systems-engineering-lab/autonomoose