Self-Driving Cars: Coming to a Showroom Near you?

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

If you’ve ever dreamed of reading a magazine in a traffic jam or eating your breakfast on the way to work, you may be soon be in luck. Oxford University scientists have begun testing a new self-driving car system, capable of dealing with all types of weather conditions and eventually costing just £100.

Road testing

The new innovation takes the form of an extremely clever 3D laser scanning system, which can be retrofitted into cars, making it much cheaper than Google’s proposed model, which is said to contain in excess of $150,000 worth of equipment. The system has already been tested on both public and private roads, and has shown the ability to stop for pedestrians, navigate traffic jams and even deal with regular routes - with accuracy up to a few centimetres.

If you’re especially keen to start using the technology, Oxford are looking for willing participants in their public testing program - the only slight drawback is that you’ll have to pay £5,000 for the pleasure of doing so. Despite the price, the leader of the development team believes that the systems could become widespread in the next 15 years, with costs eventually falling to just £100.

Room for improvement

Whilst the new developments are certainly very exciting, the realities may not be as magical as they first sound. Unlike Google’s effort, this low-cost system would only be legal on the roads with a competent, conscious and licensed driver in the front seat, putting an end to the dream of a last- minute snooze before work.

There are also a number of serious issues to consider before they can get the full go-ahead, including the question of who would be responsible for a car insurance claim if a self-driving car were to malfunction.

Thinking ahead

These questions haven’t stopped the ambitious academics at Oxford from thinking even further ahead, though, with one analyst suggesting that cars as we know them could completely change in the years ahead - he dreams of a “moving room”, where drivers are free to do what they want whilst they’re whisked away to their destination. Pipe dream or glimpse into the future? That remains to be seen!

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