The British are Coming and the Car's Driving Itself

By Gary Cutlack on at

The self-driving car trend would appear to be owned by the global car giants and the infinitely deep pockets of Google, but there's a new UK upstart on the scene that automates boring, regular trips by learning the route of your tedious commute and taking control. And might be able to do it all for £100.

The system, developed by Oxford University's Department of Engineering Science, currently uses an entirely electric Nissan LEAF as its test vehicle of choice, with an off-the-shelf computer in the boot linked to various lasers and sensors placed around the car's exterior -- and outputting control inputs to a tablet on the dash.

The concept is to let the car learn its way around routes and environments by monitoring your usual drive. Over time it builds up picture of its surroundings, with the hope being that once it's sufficiently intelligent you'll be able to enable auto-drive and have the computer take over a regular drive along a familiar route. You can then get on with staring at your phone while the car drives itself to ASDA, with a tap on the brake pedal bringing back manual control.

Obviously this system isn't yet passed for driving on proper roads, so while the team badgers the Department of Transport for approval to test it in real-world situations, it's doing endless laps of simulated town centres on test tracks and running up and down private roads.

Prof Paul Newman from the uni's Department of Engineering Science said: "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?'."

The hardware as it stands currently costs around £5,000 to implement, but the professor dreams of a time when it'll be a £100 optional extra you'll stick on the list alongside the USB charger and posh paint when buying a car. [BBC]