UK’s Oxford robot car is here

By | February 22, 2013

UK robot carI guess English scientists and engineers don’t like to be outdone by their American counterparts so after many years of hearing constantly about Google’s rapid development of self-driving cars, a team from Oxford university recently unveiled their very own robot car. And they make some very big claims about the new vehicle’s capabilities compared to the competition.

So, UK’s robot car is the brainchild of a small team (22 members) of researcher from Oxford led by Pr. P. Newman. The vehicle is a modified Nissan LEAF, i.e., all electric. The team outfitted the car with camera and laser sensors as well as an additional on board computer for number crunching, all (hold on to your hats folks!) for no more than 5000 pounds. And they estimate that in just a few years, they will reduce the cost down to only 100 pounds. Now, if that hasn’t gotten your attention, I don’t know what will.

We all want to spend as little money as possible for access to the newest technology but does this robot car actually work? The researcher claim and have published several videos demonstrating the car driving autonomously in an urban environment. It can achieve speeds of up to 40Km/h which is not particularly impressive but certainly a great start.

robot car laser sensor data visualization

And before I forget, the team has developed new vision and laser-based navigation and localization algorithms that allow the car to drive to a destination without the use of GPS; now, GPS is not the most useful when driving in the downtown of a city since the buildings tend to block the satellite signals so I can understand the need for GPS-free navigation. The experience-based approach the researchers have developed uses stereo vision to localize and track the vehicle. That’s great, but having worked with vision systems in outdoor environments, I am not completely convinced that this would work in all cases, especially when the weather turns bad or the vehicle gets stuck behind a truck or SUV. So, fusing data from multiple sensors such as cameras, laser, accelerometers, and, of course, GPS would be the more reliable navigation solution and the one more likely to allow for autonomous cars to be given legal permission to drive in our cities.

But enough talk. Let us enjoy the videos the Oxford team has published showcasing their new toy 🙂

The team’s introductory video of the autonomously driving Nissan LEAF vehicle.

Demonstration of laser-based semantic map used for navigation and dynamic obstacle detection, tracking and avoidance.

Experience-based navigation system using vision and laser sensing.