Oxford University is racing ahead to create a ‘driverless’ car. According to a blueprint put together by the Department of Transport, Oxford-designed self-driving cars may be tested on British roads this year. This looks to be the first ever trial for vehicles of this kind.
The project is being headed up by Professor Paul Newman of the Oxford Mobile Robotics Group and was founded in 2003. The project operates in partnership with and receives substantial support from Japanese car manufacturer Nissan.
This announcement comes in the light of George Osborne’s budget pledge to invest five hundred million pounds in electric vehicles earlier this year.
Rather than using a GPS as previous models of automatic cars have, Newman’s model operates by using laser sensors to detect objects and is controlled using an iPad. The safety of any user seated within the vehicle has been reinforced with the ability to retake control of the car using the brake. As the model is entirely electric, the car is also environmentally friendly.
Professor Newman estimates that the prototype navigation system costs around £5,000, though claims that “long-term, our goal is to produce a system costing around £100”.
Others remain sceptical, however. Andy Smith, an undergraduate studying Physics at Somerville, queries “if it’s battery powered, aren’t you just going to run into the same problems as electric cars? Running out of battery and having to recharge every 100 miles?”
Something often advertised as a key advantage to the computer-driven car is its supposed lack of error and misjudgement – something that human drivers have in abundance on the road. Mr Smith agreed that despite his scepticism over their practicality, widespread use of driverless cars would be a step forward in vehicle safety:
“Driving is a very mechanical and procedural process, which computers are much better at than humans – you never have to be creative when driving’.
Professor Newman was, however, quick to stress that a world dominated by driverless cars remains far in the future, as there is still “lots more work to do”.
The capacity for cars to operate without human control is something that has received substantial research in other countries. Internet giant Google has been leading American efforts into this technology, with The Times of India reporting that they had tested driverless cars on around 100,000 miles of San Francisco roads.