Oxford University’s ‘RobotCar’ is vehicle autonomy on a budget

Robotcar side view

We’ve been talking a lot about vehicle autonomy lately. Both Google and Audi have fully autonomous vehicles cruising the Nevada highways and byways, while Lexus presses on with its own autonomous vehicle program. We figured, though, given the level of specialized and expensive technology onboard each vehicle that full automotive autonomy was a ways off.

Turns out we were wrong, very wrong.

A team of scientists at Oxford University have created an inexpensive vehicle autonomy system operated from a dash-mounted iPad. It’s called “RobotCar,” according to a Phys.org report. What the Brits lack in marketing creativity they more than make up for in ingenuity and frugality.

The system as it currently stands costs around $7750. The team hopes, however, to get the price as low as $150 within a few years, making it widely accessible.

The system is designed to take over vehicle operation on routine driving routes, like from home to work and back. RobotCar makes a 3D map of its surroundings with forward facing lasers and stereo cameras mounted on the front of the car. The mapping and information gathered is sent to the Main Vehicle Computer mounted in the trunk. The third computer, the Low Level Controller (LLC), communicates directly with the iPad, which delivers both information and commands to the driver.

RobotCar, unlike other autonomous vehicle systems, does not rely on GPS whatsoever. Not only does the system 3D map roadways and drive routes, it also watches for pedestrians, cars, and other obstacles in the road. Should RobotCar detect an obstacle in the road like a pedestrian, it will slow the vehicle until the obstacle has left the road. When the path is clear, RobotCar will bring the vehicle back to speed.

At any point, should a conflict arise between the three system computers, RobotCar will relinquish vehicle control to the driver with a message on the iPad. Should the driver not respond or regain control, RobotCar will bring the vehicle to a gradual stop. Just like today’s cruise control systems, the driver can retake vehicle control with a quick tap of the brake pedal.

The Oxford team expects automakers will be installing RobotCar into new vehicles within the next 15 years, which arguably isn’t as soon as some automakers have predicted,  but it is, nonetheless, sooner than we anticipated for full vehicle autonomy.

Should the team find ways to get the RobotCar component costs down anywhere near to the $150 range, it could be a real game changer for the entire automotive industry. We’ve been a bit wary of autonomous vehicle technology but with the giant leaps and bounds forward in recent years, we can’t wait to try it for ourselves.

Cars

Has Apple rebooted its self-driving car program to develop autonomous vans?

The on-again, off-again Apple car is back on track, but it's not a sedan or a hatchback. It will arrive as an electric, autonomous passenger-carrying van, according to a recent report.
Cars

Apple opens up about its self-driving car program in letter to NHTSA

Apple has traditionally kept details about its self-driving car technology under wraps, but it has revealed details about the program in a rare instance of openness. The company takes safety seriously.
Cars

Audi is advancing the tech that teaches cars to talk to traffic lights

Audi is teaching its cars the language of traffic lights. The company developed technology that tells motorists what speed they should drive at in order to catch as many green lights as possible.
Cars

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.
Cars

Subaru’s latest VIZIV concept car is pumped full of adrenaline

The Subaru VIZIV Adrenaline is the seventh member of the Japanese automaker's family of VIZIV concept cars. It debuts at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, but for now, all we're getting is a shadowy teaser image.
Cars

Waymo rules and Apple trails in California self-driving car benchmarks

California's DMV releases annual reports of self-driving car disengagements on public roads. In the most recent reports. Waymo had the best performance, GM Cruise came in second, and Apple's self-driving program was in last place.
Cars

Watch a modified Audi e-tron electric SUV drive straight up a ski slope

A modified Audi e-tron climbed up an 85-percent gradient on an Austrian ski slope in a tribute to a classic Audi commercial. The vehicle used for the stunt sported an extra electric motor and spiked tires.
Cars

Mamma mia! Alfa Romeo will unveil a new model at the Geneva Auto Show

Alfa Romeo told Digital Trends it will unveil a new model at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show. It stopped short of revealing what it has in store, but rumors claim it will be a crossover positioned below the Stelvio.
Cars

Citroën says you could drive its tiny Ami One electric car without a license

Citroën's Ami One concept car is an electric vehicle that's as cute as it is compact. The miniature motor only has a top speed of 28 mph, so the French automaker imagines it as a shareable runaround for short drives.
Cars

Arizona city slammed with $10M lawsuit over fatal Uber autonomous car accident

The family of Elaine Herzberg, the woman struck and killed by one of Uber's self-driving prototypes, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Tempe, Arizona. They claim Herzberg jaywalked because she was confused by a brick…
Cars

Mercedes lets the sun shine in one last time with SLC Final Edition convertible

The Mercedes-Benz SLC convertible sports car is going out of production. Launched in 1996 as the SLK, the model has been a fixture in the Mercedes-Benz lineup across three generations.
Cars

Aston Martin’s next hypercar, due in 2021, will pack a hybrid powertrain punch

Aston Martin will follow up the Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro with a new hypercar, code-named Project 003. The car will debut in 2021, with production limited to 500 units worldwide.
Cars

Tesla will release fully self-driving cars in 2019 — with a big asterisk

Tesla reaffirmed its goal of releasing a fully self-driving car by the end of 2019, but it warned the system won't work perfectly 100 percent of the time. Convincing regulators that it's safe to use will require some effort, too.
Cars

Consumer Reports bumps the Tesla Model 3 off of its list of recommended models

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the six new cars that have lost their coveted Recommended rating from Consumer Reports over reliability concerns. In 2018, Model 3 owners reported body trim falling off and problems with the car's glass.