I wonder how self-driving cars determine the path to follow. Yes, there's GPS, but GPS can have hiccups and a precision larger than expected. Suppose the car is supposed to turn right at an intersection on the inner lane, how is the exact path determined? How does it determine the trajectory of the inner lane?


As you say, GPS is not precise enough for the purpose (until recently it was only accurate within 5m or so, since 2018 there are receivers that have an accuracy of about 30cm). Instead, autonomous vehicles have a multitude of sensors, mostly cameras and radar, which record the surrounding area and monitor the road ahead. Due to them being flat, mostly one colour, and often with lines or other markers on them, roads are usually fairly easy to spot, which is why most success has been made driving on roads as opposed to off-road. Once you know exactly where you are and where you want to go, computing the correct trajectory is then just a matter of maths and physics.

For an academic paper on the subject of trajectory planning see Local Trajectory Planning and Tracking of Autonomous Vehicles, Using Clothoid Tentacles Method.

It quickly becomes more complex when other road users and obstacles are taken into account; here machine learning is used to identify stationary and movable objects at high speed from the sensor input. Reacting to the input is a further problem, and one reason why there aren't any self-driving cars on the roads today.

This is all on driving automation level 2 and above; on the lower levels things are somewhat easier. For example, the latest model Nissan LEAF has an automatic parking mode, where the car self-steers, guided by camera images and sonar, but still requires the driver to indicate the final position of the vehicle. Apart from that, it is fully automatic.

  • $\begingroup$ When a car identifies a stationary object, how does it generate a new path to go around the object? Is it just simple geometry or is there some fancy machine learning behind it? $\endgroup$ – John M. Feb 13 '19 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ Have a look at archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01139316/document $\endgroup$ – Oliver Mason Feb 13 '19 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ The well written answer assumes that the goal is to construct a car with SAE level 5 which is fully autonomous. And not a car on level 0 which is a interactive and forces the human to do something what he doesn't like. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Feb 13 '19 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuelRodriguez Thanks, yes, the terminology is a bit vague on this, which is why I mentioned the automation levels. On level 0 you don't have any automation at all, though. The parking assistance example would be level 2, as it involves acceleration/deceleration. $\endgroup$ – Oliver Mason Feb 13 '19 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, clothoids are also known as Euler spirals (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler_spiral) $\endgroup$ – Oliver Mason Feb 13 '19 at 15:35

The question relates to two problems: First the sensor measuring which attempts to locate the car on the map. Secondly, the trajectory generation problem. The sensor measuring problem can be solved with sensor fusion, known as SLAM. The goal is that the car's position is determined with an accuracy of 1 millimeter. The second problem of trajectory generation can be overcome with a solver. The software is planning different trajectories from start to the goal and determines which one is the shortest.

  • $\begingroup$ What is a "solver"? I guess that, nowadays, self-driving cars use ML techniques (like CNNs, etc). You're not mentioning none of these. Instead you mentioned unrelated stuff like "Autonomous cars are developed with the hope to reduce traffic accidents to zero. Since decades, large amount of money was spend for that dream, without a success". This has nothing to do with the question. Are you able to focus? $\endgroup$ – nbro Feb 13 '19 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ Machine learning is used heavily in self-driving cars. It makes the system more complicated and allows the car to develop emotions for it's own. This improves the interaction between the driver and the car. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Feb 13 '19 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ ML doesn't allow the car to develop emotions. $\endgroup$ – nbro Feb 13 '19 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuelRodriguez The first paragraph did not contribute anything to the answer, so I have taken the liberty to remove it. $\endgroup$ – Oliver Mason Feb 13 '19 at 14:25

Autonomous vehicle motion planning and decision making for self-driving cars in urban environments enable transport to find the safest, most convenient, and most economically beneficial routes from point A to point B. Finding routes is complicated by all of the static and maneuverable obstacles that a vehicle must identify and bypass. Today, the major path planning approaches include the predictive control model, feasible model, and behavior-based model. Let’s first get familiar with some terms to understand how these approaches work.

A path is a continuous sequence of configurations beginning and ending with boundary configurations. These configurations are also referred to as initial and terminating.

Path planning involves finding a geometric path from an initial configuration to a given configuration so that each configuration and state on the path is feasible (if time is taken into account).

A maneuver is a high-level characteristic of a vehicle’s motion, encompassing the position and speed of the vehicle on the road. Examples of maneuvers include going straight, changing lanes, turning, and overtaking.

Maneuver planning aims at taking the best high-level decision for a vehicle while taking into account the path specified by path planning mechanisms. A trajectory is a sequence of states visited by the vehicle, parameterized by time and, most probably, velocity.

Trajectory planning or trajectory generation is the real-time planning of a vehicle’s move from one feasible state to the next, satisfying the car’s kinematic limits based on its dynamics and as constrained by the navigation mode.


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