UK takes driverless cars for a spin, a future Google competitor?

The U.K. has debuted its own version of Google's driverless car -- could this rival technology surpass the search engine giant?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The U.K. has debuted its own version of Google's driverless car -- could this rival technology surpass the search engine giant?

Scientists at Oxford University have developed a smart car system that can cope in adverse weather conditions including snow and rain -- something Google's car cannot currently cope with, as reported by The Guardian. The publication says that the system, somewhat like a plugin, can be fitted to existing vehicles for £5000 currently, but researchers aim to bring this down to £100 in the future.

Led by Professor Paul Newman, the team installed their system, developed over two years, on a Nissan Leaf electric car and tested it on private roads to see if the car was able to detect and adapt to changing conditions, including weather and unexpected hazards. The researchers say that the car was able to stop automatically for pedestrians and "alert" drivers when it is ready to take over -- so you can sit back and relax in tedious conditions including traffic jams.

The Oxford system can be used when driving up to 40mph.

The system uses 3D scanning technology to help build a virtual map of the car's surroundings, rather than rely purely on GPS. Especially helpful in urban areas which contain objects and blocks that can cause satellite signals to bounce and become confused -- resulting in blind GPS spots of up to 50 meters -- the researchers say that their offering is accurate within centimeters.

Continual scanning means that the smart system is aware of objects or hazards, and this could potentially be expanded to include gathering data from other vehicles or via the Internet through 3G and 4G connections.

Rather than being considered a fully autonomous alternative to driving, the Oxford system is better considered an advanced driver assistance system, which can take over driving for you in specific conditions that are deemed safe.

However, Newman also emphasized:

"It's not total autonomy for the car. It knows when things are good, and when the risks are reasonable, and then it will offer to take over."

Google's project to develop autonomous cars has included the development of prototypes driven on public roads and reaching 300,000 miles through testing. At the moment, a driver is always present in case something goes wrong, but Google says not a single accident has been documented.

The idea behind Google and the Oxford system is the same -- to improve driving safety and efficiency. Recent developments in GPS and sensor use aside, the future of autonomous vehicles still has a long way to go before regulators will consider allowing them on our roads.

(via The Guardian)

Image credit: Andreas Rueda


This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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