Self-driving car undergoes first UK test run

Boffins at Oxford University have developed a futuristic RobotCar, which is able to drive itself using lasers, cameras and an iPad.

The car is capable of driving familiar routes by utilising futuristic laser technology that scans the route ahead to check for obstacles up to 13 times a second.

The engineers behind the project are aiming to produce a "low-cost solution" that takes the strain off drivers on familiar journeys.

The Oxford-based project is similar to research carried out by Google and it works using three computers: an iPad for the driver, a Low Level Controller which runs the car's electrics and the Main Vehicle Computer which controls everything from steering to indicating.

"It's not depending on GPS, digging up the roads or anything like that - it's just the vehicles knowing where they are because they recognise their surroundings," explained Professor Paul Newman from Oxford University's department of engineering science.

"The key word for us is that the car gains 'experiences'. The car is driven by a human, and it builds a 3D model of its environment.

"When it goes on the same journey again, an iPad built into the dashboard gives a prompt to the driver - offering to let the computer 'take the wheel'.

"Touching the screen then switches to 'auto drive' where the robotic system takes over. At any time, a tap on the brake pedal will return control to the human driver."



The Oxford RobotCar UK project is now seeking law changes to enable the self-driving car to legally drive on the roads.

The technology is currently the cheapest of it's kind, costing only £5,000 but Professor Newman hopes that in the future models will only cost £100.

Google's similar self-driving cars in the US have successfully completed 300,000 "driverless" miles.

But driverless technology isn't new as the BBC show Tomorrow's World attempted a similar demonstration back in 1990. Parking the VW Futura didn't run quite as smoothly as today's gadgetry...