It’s a familiar route from your front door to your office, but what if your car could drive itself between the two?
Today that dream is one step closer to becoming reality as researchers at Oxford University unveil a car that can drive itself along a familiar route.
The Nissan Leaf electric car has a tablet computer mounted on the dashboard which allows the driver to let a computer take control of the car during the school run or the commute to work.
Professor Paul Newman explains how the car works:
Using lasers and small cameras, which are linked to a computer in the boot of the car, the system is able to alert the driver when the car is driving a route it has travelled before and offer the option to enable an “auto-drive” mode.
Tapping on the brake returns control to the driver.
– Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science
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.
We are working on a low-cost ‘auto drive’ navigation system, that doesn't depend on GPS, done with discreet sensors that are getting cheaper all the time. It’s easy to imagine that this kind of technology could be in a car you could buy.
The sort of very low cost, low footprint autonomy we are developing is what’s needed for everyday use.
The researchers are not the first to showcase a driver-less car.
However, none to date has come close to an affordable reality.
The equipment Google use in their driver-less car costs a near eye-watering £100,000.
But the team behind the Oxford project hope to change that.
Watch the car in action:
“Long-term, our goal is to produce a system costing around £100,” said Professor Newman.
The team of researchers say the system is made possible by advances in 3D laser mapping that enables the computer to quickly learn its surroundings, building up a detailed picture of the route it travels.
– Professor Paul Newman
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.
Professor 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.
”The long-term goal is to take the test system onto public roads and design an affordable system that can integrate into any car."
The technology, which is currently being tested at Begbroke Science Park near Oxford, will continue to be adapted.
At the moment the car recognises pedestrians and stops if it senses an obstacle, but it cannot respond to traffic lights.
The researchers say the next step involves enabling the system to understand complex traffic flows and make autonomous decisions about which route it takes.