Robotic cars could use local traffic info to make decisions

Robotic car technology from BAE Systems and Oxford University could help reduce congestion by using local traffic information to make decisions.

A team of researchers has installed the technology on a Wildcat 4×4 vehicle, using cameras, radars and lasers mounted to navigate the car autonomously and avoid obstacles, other vehicles and pedestrians.

This could help reduce dependence on GPS while improving navigational precision, tracking risks, lowering emissions and freeing up the driver’s hands.

‘Only by understanding its environment can an autonomous vehicle genuinely drive itself safely without the need for human intervention,’ said Prof Paul Newman of Oxford’s department of engineering science, who is leading the research.

‘Our long-term aim is to enable a new generation of robotic vehicles that can make the roads safer, less congested and cleaner, and personal transport more accessible. We do this by making smarter cars.

‘We need cars that do the thinking and concentrating for you — cars that do not insist you do the driving all the time. If the going is slow, why can’t I watch the show I missed last night, Skype with the kids, read a book or send that last email and elect the car to handle the drudgery of the trip for me?’

Unlike industrial robots in factory and port facilities, useful autonomous cars cannot rely on embedded infrastructure such as reflective beacons and guide wires to navigate, as they are too impractical and expensive to install along roads and in cities.

The research was supported by EPSRC and carried out in collaboration with Nissan. The Wildcat vehicle is currently being tested at the university’s Begbroke Science Park.

‘The good news is that we are not doomed to a future of traffic congestion and accidents,’ said Prof Newman.

‘In the future, autonomous robotic vehicles using systems similar to those we are developing will get us safely and efficiently from A to B while taking the load off their human drivers.’