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Self-driving Nissan LEAF electric car controlled by iPad

A new system that allow the drive to hand over the controls of the car to a computer has been successfully trialled by Oxford University.

Tested on a Nissan LEAF electric car, the new Auto Drive system uses low cost sat nav technology, coupled with cameras and lasers to recognise the road its travelling along.

Robot car Nissan LEAF

Rather than take over the car completely, the system is designed to take over familiar, routine journeys to relieve the driver of the tedium of daily commutes.


Using an ordinary iPad on the dashboard, the Auto Drive system flashes a prompt to the driver, offering him or her the option of switching to auto drive for a familiar part of the journey. Any tap of the brake pedal restores the car’s controls to the driver.

“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 alongside Oxford's Dr Ingmar Posner.

Nissan automated system“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,”said Professor Newman, adding“the sort of very low cost, low footprint autonomy we are developing is what’s needed for everyday use.”

Some automated technology, for vehicles that 'park themselves' or react to changing road conditions, has already found its way into production road cars. Autonomous navigation systems, such as the one being developed at Oxford, are likely to be the next big step towards liberating motorists of tedious or troubling driving-related tasks.

While GPS sat nav may be enough for drivers to safely navigate their way (well, most of the time), with a car, such technology does not provide coverage, precision, and reliability autonomous cars need to safely navigate.

But the scientists at the university used advanced, new 3D mapping technology, the  robotic car can rapidly build up a detailed picture of its surroundings.

“At the moment it is estimated that the prototype navigation system costs around £5,000. 'Long-term, our goal is to produce a system costing around £100,” says Professor Newman.

The next step in the research project is to enable the new robotic system to understand complex traffic flows and make decisions on its own about which routes to take.

The Oxford research is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The cars for the research, and support for them, is being provided by Nissan.

More about robot car here.

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Faye Sunderland

Filed under: Electric cars, Nissan

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