Understanding the Difference Between Autopilot and Autonomous Could Save Your Life

Automotive technology is evolving rapidly, and as new features are offered to car buyers, it is crucial that motorists understand how to use them as they operate their motor vehicle. This includes understanding the difference between autonomous and autopilot; both of which are features that can reduce accidents, however, they function very differently from one another.


Autopilot utilizes numerous sensors located around the vehicle to navigate the environment. These systems rely on radar/sonar, cameras, and digital monitors to sense the environment and keep the vehicle traveling within the appropriate lane. When autopilot is active, the system can steer the car, change lanes, adjust speed, and control brake function. However, if it detects a problem, such as a child running in front of the vehicle, autopilot is designed to return control over to the driver. While impressive, these systems are essentially advanced cruise control systems and require the driver to maintain vigilance over the direction of travel, speed, conditions, etc.


Unlike autopilot, autonomous cars do not require human interaction and control. These systems are designed to remove humans from the driving equation altogether. These systems sense their surroundings via sensors, radar, cameras, and computer vision control systems which interpret everything from road conditions to road signs. Autonomous systems incorporate a wide variety of algorithms that interpret data and determine risk. For example, they can detect a child on a sidewalk, determine that it is a child, and assess whether the child’s movements will place it in the path of the vehicle. If the computer determines that a crash potential exists, it will either slow the vehicle, stop the vehicle, or adjust its movements to avoid a collision with the child.

Thinking and Staying Alert While Driving

Autopilot systems require drivers to continue thinking about the road while driving, while autonomous systems are designed to do the thinking for the driver. However, neither system is flawless and there have been several crashes involving both types of technology that Las Vegas accident attorneys have tried in court. These crashes highlight the fact that while technology is evolving, it is still up to the driver to keep their thoughts on the road at all times while they are behind the wheel to prevent personal injuries and wrongful deaths.