updated 07:27 pm EST, Thu February 28, 2013
Existing prototype costs $7,500; researchers see final cost at $150
Advances in robotics enabling an automobile to "drive itself" have been installed in a Nissan Leaf electric car by researchers at Oxford University. The technology is centered around an iPad mounted in the dashboard, that prompts the driver the option to allow the car to take over driving duties for some parts of the trip. The navigation system recognizes its surroundings with an array of cameras and lasers integrated into the body of the vehicle, all linked to a computer in the trunk. The system will offer to take over for frequently driven sections of the route, with a tap on the brake pedal returning control to the human driver.
"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 Paul Newman of the Oxford University Department of Engineering Science. "Because our cities don't change very quickly, robotic vehicles will know and look out for familiar structures as they pass by 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 technology prototype cost approximately £5,000 ($7,580) to build, but the engineers want the cost down to less than £100 ($150). The first incarnation of the navigation system is being tested at Begbroke Science Park, with the next stage tackling training the system to deal with the intricacies of negotiating traffic and making decisions intelligently on which route to take.
The ultimate goal of the development is to enable the technology to navigate public roads safely. "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," said Professor Newman. "The sort of very low-cost, low-footprint autonomy we are developing is what's needed for everyday use."