'Self-driving' robot car unveiled by Oxford engineers

15 February 2013
By Edward Gent
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The adapted Nissan Leaf's navigation system can recognise its surroundings using small cameras and lasers built into the body

The adapted Nissan Leaf's navigation system can recognise its surroundings using small cameras and lasers built into the body

A self-driving car has been unveiled by a team of researchers at Oxford University.

The specially adapted Nissan Leaf has a low-cost navigation system that can recognise its surroundings using small cameras and lasers discreetly built into the body of the electric road car and linked to a computer in the boot.

The technology is controlled from an iPad on the dashboard that flashes up a prompt offering the driver the option of the car taking over for a portion of a familiar route and at any time a tap on the brake pedal will return control to the human driver.

The research is being led by Dr Ingmar Posner and Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University's engineering science department.

He said: "Instead of imagining some cars driving themselves all of the time we should imagine a time when all cars can drive themselves some of the time. The sort of very low-cost, low-footprint autonomy we are developing is what's needed for everyday use."

The work is a milestone on the way to creating everyday vehicles that can offer "auto drive" for some parts of a journey, taking the strain off drivers during a busy commute or school run.

At the moment it is estimated that the prototype navigation system costs around £5,000 and while there are many hurdles to overcome, the long-term goal is to take such a system on to public roads.

"Long-term, our goal is to produce a system costing around £100," said Prof Newman.

The next stage of the research, led by Dr Posner, will involve enabling the new robotic system to understand complex traffic flows and make decisions on its own about which routes to take.

Prof Newman said: "While our technology won't be in a car showroom near you any time soon, and there's lots more work to do, it shows the potential for this kind of affordable robotic system that could make our car journeys safer, more efficient and more pleasant for drivers."

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: "Robotics and autonomous systems has the potential to be one of the great technologies of the future, and have recently benefited from £35m of new government investment.

“This landmark project is an excellent example of how the UK research base is at the leading edge of this technology, driving growth and transforming our everyday lives."

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