Researchers at Oxford University are testing a low-cost, self-driving vehicle concept in the UK. The modified Nissan Leaf (called RobotCar) uses stereo cameras and lasers, along with a 3D mapping solution housed in a computer in the rear of the vehicle.
While other autonomous car projects have relied on the deep pockets of companies like Google and Volvo, the Oxford team is using an array of low-priced cameras and sensors that ring up to about £5,000. Eventually, the researchers hope to drive the cost down to £100. Also, unlike Google’s self-driving car, there is no large (and expensive), 3D LIDAR unit on top of the vehicle.
While Oxford is working with the Department of Transport to greenlight actual road tests, the team has been testing the technology in Begbroke Science Park in Oxfordshire to demonstrate the navigation and control systems.
Under this model, the vehicle acts autonomously only on familiar routes. An iPad in the dashboard prompts the driver, providing the option to let the vehicle take over. Touching the screen switches the vehicle to “auto,” while tapping the brake puts the driver back in control. As Prof. Paul Newman of Oxford’s department of engineering science told the BBC, “The key word for us is that the car gains ‘experiences.’”
While the current model is a streamlined Leaf, back in 2011 the researchers demonstrated the technology on a much more aggressive looking Wildcat vehicle from BAE Systems. You can see it here.