A video of a Nissan Leaf electric car driving itself has been released by Oxford University.
Using robotic technology, the car is able to drive itself for stretches of a journey, taking the strain off drivers.
The low-cost navigation system can recognise its surroundings using small cameras and lasers researchers built into the body of the electric road car and linked to a computer in the boot.
The car is controlled by an iPad on the dashboard that offers to put the car into auto drive when it recognises a familiar route, such as the commute to work or school.
A tap on the iPad put the car into ‘auto drive’ but the human can take back over by using the brake pedal.
“We are working on a low-cost ‘auto drive’ navigation system. It’s easy to imagine that this kind of technology could be in a car you could buy,” said Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University.
Technology for cars to park themselves has already found its way into production. Professor Newman is adamant that GPS is not the way forward with cameras continuing to decrease in price. The system provides greater levels of reliability so that cars can drive themselves safely as the car knows about its surroundings.
“Our approach is made possible because of advances in 3D laser mapping that enable an affordable car-based robotic system to rapidly build up a detailed picture of its surroundings,” said Professor Newman. “Robotic vehicles will know and look out for familiar structures so that they can ask a human driver ‘I know this route, do you want me to drive?’ and the driver can choose to let the technology take over.”
The equipment Google uses in its driver-less car costs close to £100,000. “At the moment it is estimated that the prototype navigation system costs around £5,000 … [but] our goal is to produce a system costing around £100,” says Professor Newman.
The technology is currently being tested at its base at Begbroke Science Park, near Oxford. The next stage of the research, led by Dr Ingmar Posner, will involve enabling the new robotic system to understand complex traffic flows and make decisions on its own about which routes to take.
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