Watch out - self-driving cars could be tested on UK roads by the end of 2013. This is the next step on from testing such wizardry on private land. Initially, cars will be assessed in rural and suburban areas via “semi-autonomous” mode that allows a person to take control should a vehicle not perform correctly. However, they should be able to follow routes, maintain safe distances from hazards and keep to the correct lanes. The cars will be tested by scientists from Oxford University that have already showcased their self-driving car. But this RobotCar - which is based on a Nissan LEAF - cannot travel everywhere automatically. It must first be driven by a human so it can learn its route and the landmarks. It then recognises these on later trips and asks permission to drive itself to what it suggests is the correct destination. The motorist presses a button to confirm yes/no. This capability comes via three computers. The Main Vehicle Computer is an off-the-shelf unit in the boot. There is also a Low Level Controller and an iPad that runs the user interface on the dashboard. Computers therefore operate the vehicle's motor, steering, brakes, throttle, indicators, etc. They also work alongside cameras/lasers that help interpret the surroundings and navigate. And yes, if someone steps into the vehicle's path it knows to slam on the brakes.
Google Self Driving Car Project
RobotCar is not the only self-driving vehicle on the planet. The Google Self-Driving Car Project has clocked-up 300,000 miles in the United States without crashing (excluding an incident involving human error). And that brings us to one of the project's objectives - saving lives. Google's Sebastian Thrun once wrote that "according to the World Health Organisation more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents.” Many of these were caused by human error. He added: “We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half." The Google Self-Driving Car Project incorporates machines such as the Lexus RX450h and Toyota Prius. These, of course, are equipped with systems that enable them to self-drive. Highlights include the Lidar which is a rotating roof mounted sensor that scans more than 200 feet in every direction. Its purpose is to create a three-dimensional map. Also, the Position Estimator in the left rear wheel plots the car's location on this map and measures movement. This complements a video camera that sits close to the rear-view mirror and detects traffic lights and hazards such as pedestrians. Finally, front/rear sensors determine the positions of distant objects. These systems have been tested on hospitable roads but will now be enhanced to cope with conditions such as snow, etc. Machines are taking over - watch out.