iPad controlled cars in testing

Cars that are controlled via an iPad on the dashboard and effectively drive themselves for sections of a journey are being tested by experts.

A team at Oxford University is carrying out the trials with a Nissan Leaf electric car equipped with state-of-the-art robotic technology.

The tests are the latest phase of a process designed to bring "auto drive" cars to the road, which could ease the pressure on drivers doing the school run or commuting to work.

When a journey is underway the driver is given a prompt by the iPad offering up the option for the car to take over for a familiar part of the journey, with a simple touch of the screen giving the system the go-ahead to do just that.

The driver is then able to regain control of the driving at any point by a tap of the brake pedal.

A navigation system forms the basis of the technology, comprising a series of small cameras and lasers discreetly built in the body of the adapted electric car and communicating with a computer in the boot.

Dr Ingmar Posner and Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University's engineering science department are leading the project, with Professor Newman revealing the long-term aim is to develop a system that costs as little as £100.

He said the sensors are continually getting cheaper and he described it as "easy to imagine" the technology being used in a typical car.

"Instead of imagining some cars driving themselves all of the time we should imagine a time when all cars can drive themselves some of the time. The sort of very low-cost, low-footprint autonomy we are developing is what's needed for everyday use," he added.

Dr Posner is taking the helm for the next stage of the research, in which the team will attempt to make the robotic system understand complex traffic flows and take independent decisions about which routes to take.

Professor Newman admitted the technology "won't be in a car showroom near you any time soon" - but likewise if the system does make it to the mainstream it appears drivers will not need to break the bank on car finance either in order to enjoy the technology.

The expert stressed the team's work is showing there is clear potential for an affordable system that would make car journeys "safer, more efficient and more pleasant for drivers".

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has praised the team's work as "a landmark project" and said it shows UK researchers are at the cutting edge of progress in robotics.

He said "robotics and autonomous systems has the potential to be one of the great technologies of the future" and the Government has invested £35 million in its development.

Cars that are controlled via an iPad on the dashboard and effectively drive themselves for sections of a journey are being tested by experts.

A team at Oxford University is carrying out the trials with a Nissan Leaf electric car equipped with state-of-the-art robotic technology.

The tests are the latest phase of a process designed to bring "auto drive" cars to the road, which could ease the pressure on drivers doing the school run or commuting to work.

When a journey is underway the driver is given a prompt by the iPad offering up the option for the car to take over for a familiar part of the journey, with a simple touch of the screen giving the system the go-ahead to do just that.

The driver is then able to regain control of the driving at any point by a tap of the brake pedal.

A navigation system forms the basis of the technology, comprising a series of small cameras and lasers discreetly built in the body of the adapted electric car and communicating with a computer in the boot.

Dr Ingmar Posner and Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University's engineering science department are leading the project, with Professor Newman revealing the long-term aim is to develop a system that costs as little as £100.

He said the sensors are continually getting cheaper and he described it as "easy to imagine" the technology being used in a typical car.

"Instead of imagining some cars driving themselves all of the time we should imagine a time when all cars can drive themselves some of the time. The sort of very low-cost, low-footprint autonomy we are developing is what's needed for everyday use," he added.

Dr Posner is taking the helm for the next stage of the research, in which the team will attempt to make the robotic system understand complex traffic flows and take independent decisions about which routes to take.

Professor Newman admitted the technology "won't be in a car showroom near you any time soon" - but likewise if the system does make it to the mainstream it appears drivers will not need to break the bank on car finance either in order to enjoy the technology.

The expert stressed the team's work is showing there is clear potential for an affordable system that would make car journeys "safer, more efficient and more pleasant for drivers".

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has praised the team's work as "a landmark project" and said it shows UK researchers are at the cutting edge of progress in robotics.

He said "robotics and autonomous systems has the potential to be one of the great technologies of the future" and the Government has invested £35 million in its development.

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