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Wildcat Autonomous Vehicle Arrives at Begbroke and One Day Will Drive Itself Out.
This autumn you could see a Wildcat being tested on the roads around Begbroke Science Park. This is part of on-going work by Dr Paul Newman and his Mobile Robotics Group, who have moved out to Begbroke to combine two avenues of research – mobile robotics and intelligent transport systems.
Until now the group has focused on smaller scale robots. Three of these, Homer, Lisa and Marge, were tested at the Science Park last summer. These robots use laser and vision to perceive their environment. The group’s expertise in autonomous navigation means the extension to smart transport is the obvious next step. In Dr Newman’s vision of travel in the future “cars will do more for you, using on-board computing and sensing to take some of the strain and boredom out of driving in traffic jams. I want cars that understand their immediate surroundings, tirelessly assess the risks, and take steps to avoid them.” Amidst much excitement, the modified Bowler Wildcat arrived on site in September. The vehicle itself has a huge amount of computational horse power on board and sports a variety of sensors including laser scanners, and high-end cameras. It also uses inertial navigation, which works in the same way as the balance mechanism in your inner ear, incorporating accelerations and rotations into its estimate of the distance travelled.
Dr Newman says “Typically, GPS technology will tell you where you are, but there will always be a few metres of error. That is nowhere near good enough for autonomous cars – imagine trying to negotiate the Pear Tree roundabout in a car that might steer you 6 feet to the left! Initially the group will be working on sensors that will let the vehicle know where it is to better than one centimetre of a precise location point.” In time, the Wildcat will be able to use this competency to drive autonomously.
The vehicle will initially be tested on the roads around the Science Park, scanning, seeing and learning. Then it will be out and about on Oxfordshire’s roads, pushing the limits of machine navigation and perceptions. But don’t panic – the Wildcat will be driven at all times under human control – autonomous driving remains an exciting concept….for now!