What Are Unmanned Cars? Drone/UGV Automobiles Explained

Unmanned cars, also known as car unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) or robotic cars/automobiles have been around for a very long time. They’re some of the earliest types of drones created.

Their uses vary from being used in backyard off-road racing to transporting passengers from one location to another (more on this below).

What are unmanned cars:

Unmanned cars, also called robotic cars, are types of powered drones/unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) that drive on and off roads using three or more wheels.

Robotic cars range in size from small toy-grade cars you can pick up to large scale cars that are similar in size to a manned vehicle.

Take note that unmanned cars include remote control (RC)/teleoperated, autonomous/self-driving, and artificially intelligent unmanned cars.

These types of unmanned vehicles fall under the broad category of unmanned motor vehicles. Unmanned motor vehicles are sub-types of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).

How Do Unmanned Cars Work?

Unmanned car drones propel themselves using a power source and several spinning wheels along with a suspension, steering, braking and a communications system enabling them to be autonomous, automated and/or controlled remotely.

They use various parts and components that work together enabling the vehicle to drive such as wheels, a chassis, suspension systems, power sources etc (more on this below).

Car UGVs experience several forces including thrust generated by a power source that opposes drag caused by air resistance and friction generated by the spinning wheels against the axles.

Pitch, roll, and yaw are each present in a moving robotic car and can be controlled to a degree by the suspension system.

Pitch is the change in angle of an unmanned car along its transverse axis forwards and backwards. When the front of the car goes up, the back goes down and vice versa.

Roll, also called body roll, is the change in angle of the body of an unmanned car along its longitudinal axis. If a person stood at one side of the car (passenger or driver’s side) and lifted it, that would be a roll.

Yaw is the change in angle of an unmanned car along its vertical axis. When the car turns, it changes direction either going left or right. This is called yaw and is different from roll as all four wheels stay on the ground.

Controlling and understanding the pitch, roll, and yaw of individual unmanned cars is important as each of them slightly change the car’s centre of gravity causing a weight transfer which if not properly configured could cause the car to easily flip over or slide out during a turn.

An unmanned car’s centre of gravity is a very important thing to get right especially in unmanned racing cars where they have to drive at high speeds and carry out tight turns.

The wheels and axles of an unmanned car must also be chosen well as they generate friction as they rotate along the axles and also trap air within when travelling at high speeds which can make them experience a sort of turbulence making the vehicle unstable.

This can be fixed using wheel covers/hubcaps and modifying the axle geometry according to the way it will be used.

The entire body itself is also often designed in specific ways to reduce aerodynamic drag caused by air resistance while still being durable and capable of containing important internal components.

The faster the vehicle travels, the more drag will be generated.

They also need power sources which are devices used to generate and provide power to the other components in the robot. Power sources include many devices such as a powered tether, engines, batteries etc (more on this below).

Typically, these types of robots are either electric unmanned cars or are powered by an internal combustion engine using either gasoline or nitro fuel. This is referring to the main source of power as many unmanned cars with engines also have small batteries used to power other components.

Unmanned car braking systems differ depending on whether they’re electric or mechanical.

In electric brakes, the electronic speed controller (ESC) controls this by locking the current flowing through the motors.

In mechanical brakes, brake disks attached to brake pads held together to the wheel by brake callipers apply resistance to the differential system and slow down the robotic car.

There are two-wheel drive (most common), four-wheel drive (often found in off-road cars), eight-wheel drive (rare), and all-wheel drive unmanned cars. This refers to which pair of wheels on a drive axle is powered in a car.

The tires fitted to unmanned cars are sold as either rubber tires filled with air or have foam inserts. Rubber tires are typically the preferred type.

The camber angle refers to the angle of the wheels when viewed from the front or back of the vehicle in relation to the ground. The most common angle is called the neutral/zero camber where the wheels are perpendicular to the ground.

Positive camber is very rare and is where the top of the wheels lean out away from the chassis. Negative camber is a lot more common and is where the top of the wheels lean in towards each other. The camber angle for each pair of tires on each axle should be the same.

These types of vehicles can be controlled remotely often using radio waves (RC cars), controlled using pre-programmed software (semi-autonomous cars), or controlled using pre-programmed software and typically machine learning where the drone will learn based on data gathered and make its own decisions (fully autonomous/self-driving cars).

RC cars specifically are often modelled after real cars at a smaller in many cases. These scales include 1/8 all the way up to 1/17 and can be even less or more than this range.

In reality, both teleoperated and autonomous cars can be built both smaller and larger than real manned cars.

What Are The Types Of Unmanned Cars?

The types of unmanned cars can be split up according to:

  • The general types
  • The number of wheels
  • The control system

The general types of unmanned cars include unmanned economy/family cars (hatchbacks, station wagons/estates, sedans/saloons etc.), sports cars (roadsters, touring cars, drift cars etc.), unmanned luxury cars (limousines, supercars), off-road cars (rally cars, SUVs), and custom cars (hi-risers, lowriders, hot rods).

The types of unmanned cars according to the number of wheels include three-wheeled cars (three-wheelers), four-wheeled cars, six-wheeled cars, and eight-wheeled cars.

The types of unmanned cars according to the control system include remote control (RC), semi-autonomous, and fully autonomous cars.

Check out our full post where we dive into all the different types of unmanned cars. For each type, we explain what it is, an advantage and disadvantage, and some examples:

Related Post: Types Of Unmanned Car Drones/UGVs Explained (+Pictures)

What Are Unmanned Cars Used For?

These types of robots are used for an incredible amount of things in so many industries.

Here are 5 applications for unmanned cars:

  • Unmanned car racing
  • Passenger transportation
  • Search and rescue operations
  • Military ISR
  • RC model car shows

Check out our full post on unmanned car applications. For each application, we dive into what it is, how it works, and some examples if any:

Related Post: 6 Awesome Unmanned Car Robot/UGV Applications Explained

What Parts/Components Make Up Unmanned Cars?

These complex vehicles are made up of various parts and components that work together to ensure the effective and efficient operation of the drone.

Here are 5 parts & components that make up unmanned cars:

  • Structural system
  • Body/shell
  • Communications system
  • Steering system
  • Suspension system

The structural system is the strongest part of the UGV that supports all other components and payloads within the robot in order for it to function.

This can refer to the drone’s frame or chassis, or the combination of the frame with other components that enable the vehicle to move including the transmission, engine, steering etc which is then called a rolling chassis which simply requires a body/shell to be completed.

The body/shell is the part of an unmanned car that typically covers the chassis/frame protecting the internal components. It can come separate from the chassis/frame or come permanently attached to it (unibody chassis).

The body can be designed to replicate the design of almost any type of manned vehicle.

The communications system is the system enabling the operator to send and receive data to and from the unmanned car. This can be used to monitor the sensors on the vehicle over long distances and/or to control the drone.

A radio transmitter and receiver are typically used to achieve this along with all other parts and components enabling the vehicle to be controlled.

The steering system is the system that enables the entire robot to change direction according to the desired course of the drone and/or operator.

The suspension system is the system that supports the rest of the vehicle and enables it to move. It helps absorb shocks while driving and maintains and supports the chassis and body of the vehicle at a set height making the vehicle more stable and easier to control.

Check out our full post on the main parts/components of unmanned cars where for each part/component, we dive into what it is and how it works in further detail:

Related Post: Main Unmanned Car Robot/UGV Parts & Components Explained

What Are The Advantages & Disadvantages Of Unmanned Cars?

Robotic cars are some of the most popular and oldest types of drones used due to their vast number of advantages and fewer disadvantages.

We’ve split up the advantages and disadvantages into their own separate sections.

Unmanned car robot advantages

Here are 5 advantages of unmanned cars:

  • They’re often fast
  • They’re fairly easy to set up and operate (RC cars specifically)
  • They’re typically capable of carrying various types and amounts of payloads
  • They can be used efficiently and effectively in various industries
  • They’re often much quieter and more stable than other types of unmanned motor vehicles

Unmanned car robot disadvantages

Here are 5 disadvantages of unmanned cars:

  • They’re very complex vehicles making them overwhelming to repair and maintain for beginners
  • They emit harmful emmissions (specifically engine-powered robotic cars)
  • They’re often quite heavy which can make them dangerous for pedestrians if struck
  • They range in price which can become quite expensive depending on the purpose and features in the robot
  • They all have a limited range they can travel

Unmanned Car Power Sources & Propulsion Devices

Unmanned cars are self-propelled vehicles that use various devices that enable them to function.

Here are 7 unmanned car power sources & propulsion devices:

  • Batteries
  • Motors
  • Engines
  • Powered tethers
  • Wheels/tires
  • Fuel cells (FCs)
  • Solar power

Check out our full post where we dive into several powerplants and propulsion devices used in drones. For each power source, we expand on how they work, the types, advantages/disadvantages, and examples of drones using it:

Related Post: How Are Drones Powered? 6 Drone Energy Sources Explained

What Are Some Examples Of Unmanned Cars?

Here are 9 examples of unmanned cars:

NameManufacturerDesignPower Source
Audi R8 GTCMJ RC CarsUnmanned sports car (grand tourer)Battery
Waymo Driver (Autonomous Technology)Waymo (Google)Can be fitted to various carsN/A
ATC3.4BLAbsimaUnmanned sports car (touring car)Battery
Toyota GR Supra GT4TraxxasUnmanned sports car (grand tourer)Battery
Europe StarLe Yu ToysUnmanned sports car (roadster)Battery
UltraExceed RCUnmanned sports car (touring car)Nitro Engine
RallyLaTraxx (Traxxas)Unmanned off-road car (rally car)Battery
Ferrari F643TamiyaUnmanned sports car (formula one car)Battery
Audi Quattro RallyeTamiyaUnmanned off-road car (rally car)Battery

N/A: Not Applicable

If you’d like to discover who the best drone companies are in the world for the consumer, commercial and military drone markets and some fun facts about them, we have a full post on this topic below:

Related Post: Top Drone Companies/Manufacturers In The World [History, What They Offer, Popular Drones And More]


Unmanned cars are becoming more and more relevant in our day-to-day lives. This is especially the case for autonomous/self-driving cars which seem to be the most popular type.

We hope you’ve fully understood this vast topic and have discovered how much more the term ‘unmanned car’ actually covers if you didn’t know already.

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