A Nissan Leaf electric car has been modified by Oxford University to become a robotic car controlled by an iPad. The project which it is called “auto drive” enables the car to drive itself for short stretches which could mean a stress free school run for parents or a productive work commute for others.
The system has been developed by the University and uses small cameras and lasers built into the cars bodywork which all link back to a trunk mounted computer. The iPad becomes the front end and is fitted within the cars dashboard.
The whole user experience is provided by an iPad which quickly guides the user through the few checks that are needed to induce autonomy. When it is safe to do so, the car offers the drive the chance to be driven automatically. Here is video showing that process. At any time the driver can take back control of the car by touching the brake - it's exactly like cruise control in an existing vehicle - only this time the car sees obstacles, controls speed and steering. It feels very natural.
There are three computers onboard. The iPad, the LLC (Low Level Controller) and the MVC (Main Vehicle Computer). The iPad runs the user interface and demands constant attention from the LLC. If any of these computers disagree the driver will not be able to start autonomous driving. If at any point there is a problem when the car is in control the human driver is prompted to take control, if they fail to do so the car is automatically brought to a stop.
The car is based on a modified Nissan Leaf which is powered solely by electricity. When you run out of fuel you just need to find a suitable power point rather than a gas station. Of course that wouldn't be too hard when you have a self drive system as capable as this. As Oxford University points out, we should imagine a time when all cars can drive themselves some of the time. This is what’s needed for everyday use; a future not condemned to congestion and accidents and one that has cars driving themselves and interacting safely with other road users. Maybe that possibility has just taken a step closer.