University of Oxford develops low-cost self-driving car system
Oxford University’s Mobile Robotics Group (MRG) has developed an autonomous navigation system for cars at a build cost of only £5,000 (US$7,700). Installed in a production Nissan LEAF, the robot car uses off the shelf components and is designed to take over driving while traveling on frequently used routes.
Automated driving technology already exists on several different levels – from the assisted driving systems found in some upmarket cars to full-blown robots that can drive themselves. The latter have become so advanced in recent years that some U.S.
states have legalized their use on public roads. These types of vehicles can navigate everything from city streets to speedways, but fully autonomous cars have the drawback of being heavily modified vehicles with hefty price tags.
The car chosen for MRG’s tests was a modified Nissan LEAF. The LEAF was altered to make it fly-by-wire, so that everything down to the turn indicators could be controlled by the car’s computers.
The technology is based on “autonomous perception.” That is, the car learns about the route and can constantly monitor the immediate area in order to make driving decisions. It doesn't use GPS because satellite navigation isn't always available, isn't accurate enough for driving and doesn't provide any information about what’s going on around the robot car. Instead, a pair of stereo cameras is installed in the car and there are two scanning lasers under the front and rear bumpers.
Together these sensors and computers are used to build up a three-dimensional map of the route. This is augmented by “semantic information,” such as the location and type of road markings, traffic signs, traffic lights and lane information, as well as aerial images. Since such things can change, the system can also access the internet for updates. Only when the system has enough data and has been trained enough will it offer to drive the car.
The MRG team sees an immediate future in production cars modified for autonomous driving only part of the time on frequently driven routes. They estimate that the cost of the system can be brought down from its current £5,000 to only £100 (US$155).