By Nick Jaynes
Saturday, Feb 16th, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
 
Presently, both Google and Audi have fully autonomous cars driving around the state of Nevada. With very expensive and specialized onboard operating systems, it seemed unlikely vehicle autonomy would hit the consumer market before the end of the decade.

A group of British scientists at Oxford University might have changed all of that, however, according to a Phys.org report.

"RobotCar," as it's been dubbed, is an iPad-controlled vehicle autonomy system that costs around $7750. The aim is to whittle system costs down to as low as $150, which would make vehicle autonomy widely accessible.

The RobotCar system uses three onboard computers, several lasers, and some stereo cameras to produce a 3D rendering of the vehicle route. The heart of the system is a trunk-mounted "Main Vehicle Computer" (MVC), which controls nearly every aspect of the car. Another "Low Level Controller" (LLC) interacts with the dash-mounted iPad to communicate with and relay messages to the driver.

Designed for short, routinely driven journeys, RobotCar stores 3D maps of drive routes. Once the system feels confident in a particular drive route, it will offer to take over vehicle control with a message on the iPad screen, allowing the driver to accept or decline. If at any point, however, the three computers conflict, RobotCar would offer vehicle control back to the driver. Should the driver not respond, RobotCar would bring the vehicle to a gradual stop.

Pedestrians, vehicles, and other roadway obstacles are also monitored by a laser, mounted under the front fender, which scans an 85-degree field of view - up to 50 meters ahead. If an obstacle is detected, RobotCar automatically brings the vehicle to a stop and resumes normal driving as soon as the roadway is clear.

Though it is currently a one-off prototype, the Oxford team anticipates automakers to fit their system to new vehicles within the next 15 years.