The future of driving may not involve driving at all. As more auto manufacturers throw their hats in the autonomous vehicle ring, the self-driving cars of science fiction are beginning to look like a very real part of the future. While Google has been working on its own version, the engineers at Oxford’s Mobile Robotics Group have created an autonomous system of their own, called RobotCar, that is designed to break ground in terms of affordability.
Self-driving cars have been shown to reduce accidents and congestion, but until now, the technology has been prohibitively expensive. The RobotCar system costs less than $8,000 today, but the developers hope to get that cost down into the triple digits. Using an iPad as the interface, mounted lasers, cameras and multiple computers keep the car moving safely without input from the driver. If the system detects an obstacle like a pedestrian or animal, it slows down until the obstacle is gone. If the computers disagree, the driver is prompted to take back control.
The system is built onto a Nissan LEAF for an emissions-free ride. Before the it can be used for transportation, the system must learn the environment around it, which means driving your usual route a few times so that the vehicle can become familiar. Once learned, the car can be used for an automatic commute. The developers of RobotCar say that the system works so that, “you’ll always see someone sitting in the driver’s seat but they won’t always be doing the driving.”