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Self-drive car given public test run in Oxford

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A self-drive car has been given a public test run in the UK, giving a glimpse of the future of personal travel.

During an event at Oxford University, an adapted Nissan Leaf electric car was demonstrated with 'auto drive enabled', meaning it was able to 'drive itself' for a stretch of the route.

Self-drive car tested in Oxford

© University of Oxford

Self-drive car tested in Oxford



The car was controlled from an iPad on the dashboard, which flashed up prompts offering the driver the option to either drive the car, or allow the vehicle to take over. At any time, the driver could return control by tapping the brake pedal.

Google has already been extensively testing self-drive cars in the US. The team at Oxford University said that its "low-cost navigation system" represents "a milestone on the way to creating everyday vehicles that can offer 'auto drive' for some parts of a journey, taking the strain off drivers during a busy commute or school run".

The system does not rely on GPS, but instead recognises its surroundings using small cameras and lasers mounted discreetly into the body of the adapted electric road car and linked to a computer in the boot.

"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," said Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University's Department of Engineering Science, who is leading the research.

"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. The sort of very low-cost, low-footprint autonomy we are developing is what's needed for everyday use."

Self-drive car tested in Oxford

© University of Oxford

Self-drive car tested in Oxford



Some automated technology has already been included in production road cars, such as systems that automatically park cars, or react to changing road conditions.

But autonomous navigation systems, such as the one being developed at Oxford, are considered a major step towards "revolutionising the driving experience".

"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 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."

Self-drive car tested in Oxford

© University of Oxford

Self-drive car tested in Oxford



The current Oxford University prototype is estimated to cost around £5,000, but the team's long-term goal is to make it available for around £100.

The technology is currently being tested at a base at Begbroke Science Park near Oxford, and the next stage of development will involve the robotic system being able to understand complex traffic flows.

"Whilst 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," said Professor Newman.

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