Uber is one of many companies now testing this kind of vehicle in Arizona, California and other parts of the country. Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has said it is also operating autonomous cars on the outskirts of Phoenix without a safety driver behind the wheel. On Monday, Uber said it was halting tests in Tempe, Pittsburgh, Toronto and San Francisco.
Here is a brief guide to the way these cars operate.
How do these cars know where they are?
When designing these vehicles, companies like Uber and Waymo begin by building a three-dimensional map of a place. They equip ordinary automobiles with lidar sensors — “light detection and ranging” devices that measure distances using pulses of light — and as company workers drive these cars on local roads, these expensive devices collect the information needed to build the map.
Once the map is complete, cars can use it to navigate the roads on their own. As they do, they continue to track their surroundings using lidar, and they compare what they see with what the map shows. In this way, the car gains a good idea of where it is in the world.
Lidar also alerts the cars to nearby objects, including other cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.
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