In the last years autonomous driving has gone from ‘maybe one day’ to ‘inevitable’. Besides Tesla, Google, Uber and Apple, pretty much every car manufacturer on the planet is investing millions into one day delivering self-driving vehicles.

Despite this looking like it happened overnight, researchers have been working on autonomous vehicle systems for over two decades. Increased computing power and the availability of advanced sensors have drastically accelerated progress.

Elevator Pitch

Self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AV) have moved from science fiction to reality and started entering the spotlight since DARPA’s Grand Challenge in 2004 – a 132 mile race with a $1 million prize.

94% of traffic accidents are caused by human error. Driverless cars might be our only way to move towards zero fatalities.

There are five levels of autonomous driving, going from Level 1 where driver assistance is required to full automation at Level 5. As of today, the most advanced systems are at Level 3, with Level 5 estimated to be achieved around 2025.

“Almost all cars produced will be autonomous in 10 years.”
– Elon Musk

🤯 Your kids might thus never learn how to drive.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and safety and regulation barriers to be overcome, but things have never moved faster and the impact will be more drastic than you might expect. AVs could result in the end of car ownership and more greenery in the streets as parking spots will no longer be needed. People might move out of the bustling city as they can sleep in the car on their way to work, and an overall architectural city redesign might be the result.

Core concepts

At the heart of self-driving cars lies technology. Three types of sensors enable a vehicle to become driverless. They make up the ‘eyes’ of the car, making it possible to ‘see’ using a combination of cameras, lasers and radars.

  • Cameras – Covering a vehicle’s every angle, they help detect and recognize obstacles such as cars, trees and traffic lights.
  • Radar – Detects obstacles using radio waves and measures their distance to the vehicle.
  • LiDAR – A Light Detection and Ranging system that produces 360-degree 3D images of the vehicle’s surroundings.

While Elon Musk is focusing on cameras and radars for Tesla, most renowned car manufacturers are betting on LiDAR to equip their driverless cars in the road to full autonomy.

GM self-driving vehicle technology

Powered by machine learning algorithms such as deep learning (DL), computer vision and image recognition allow for the accurate detection and classification of patterns and objects such as lanes, vehicles and pedestrians. Based on huge volumes of training data gathered an algorithm can then ‘learn’ and teach itself how to drive.

Lastly, of course, is the importance of navigation allowing the vehicle to know its location.

Key Benefits

Taking a utopian view, let’s look at some of the benefits autonomous vehicles will bring.

  • Increased safety

  • Environmental benefits

  • Convenience & comfort

  • Time savings

  • Cost savings

How Autonomous Vehicles are disrupting industries

The global autonomous vehicle market is expected to be valued at $54.23 billion in 2019, and according to some reports projected to reach $556.67 billion by 2026. The impact of self-driving cars will go far beyond the transportation and automobile industry.

Let’s look at a few examples of the technology’s long-term disruptive nature.

  • Transportation

  • Insurance

  • Healthcare

  • Entertainment

  • Real Estate


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Top disruptive startups

More and more companies have open-sourced their datasets covering anything from urban city centers to suburban landscapes, from day to night, dawn to dusk, and sunshine to rain. Besides the Mapillary Vistas Dataset, other examples to bookmark include the Waymo Open Dataset and those of Lyft and Cityscapes.



  • Donkey Car


  • Apollo