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Oxford University Unveils ‘Self-driving Car’

RobotCar

First Google, now Oxford. The concept of self driven cars seems to have caught everyone’s fancy. Interestingly, Oxford University claims that their car will be much more affordable than the one rolled out by the search engine giant.

Engineers and researchers have put in years of effort in this endeavour, and are confident that their result will outshine Google’s.

It has been aptly named the RobotCar. Contrary to the previous self driven car prototypes, this one is not completely autonomous always. It only suggests autonomy for itself when there is minimal risk in the surroundings.  Hmm.. talk about responsible driving!

This car runs on a customized Nissan leaf. When it goes into self drive mode, it utilizes a tablet (an iPad) that is fixed on the dashboard. So that’s one more use for the iPad! According to Paul Newman, one of the Oxford professors involved in the project, the car ‘knows when the risk is minimal, and everything’s fine, and only then does it recommend a takeover; there is no complete autonomy’.

If you want to put it on auto drive, you can simply tap on the tablet and make it happen. When you want to regain control of your vehicle, all you need to do is press the car’s brakes.

Interestingly, the car also has a good memory. So if you have a routine, the car will take you through those roads without any hiccups. The tablet on the dashboard remembers every turn.

It seems the engineers at Oxford University went into the process from a whole new angle, and very different from the by now famous Google self driven car. Google’s cars makes use of GPS navigation but the RobotCar uses cameras and lasers affixed on the top of the vehicle all round. They keep a watch for pedestrians, vehicles or any other obstacles and risks.  The laser can see more than 150 feet ahead, and at an angle of 85 degrees. Whenever the equipment determines there is some danger, the car comes to a gradual stop, and stays till the obstacle goes away and the risk is eliminated. When the equipment detects that it is ‘all clear’ then the RobotCar continues driving.

As of now, it is priced at £ 5000. Researchers at Oxford University are confident, however, that they will be able to bring down the price to £ 500 eventually. They are also hoping that in the course of time, they may be able to roll out the RobotCar for as low as £ 100.

Engineers have already tested the car in the UK on some private roads. Last week, a video of the test drive was uploaded on YouTube by the Mobile Robotics Group. Once they get the go ahead from the Transportation Department, they will roll out the cars on to public roads too.

So will self driven cars be the new rage? We will have to wait and see till we have a good number of these autonomous vehicles at the car dealers to find out!