Drive A Car With An iPad? Sure, Why Not?
February 15, 2013

Drive A Car With An iPad? Sure, Why Not?

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

There's an app for almost everything, and to add weight to that argument, a new technology is coming out that allows you to drive a car with an iPad.

Oxford University scientists say the technology could be installed in mainstream cars within the next 15 years. The team unveiled an adapted Nissan Leaf with built-in lasers and cameras to allow the car to be driven via an iPad.

The project leader, professor Paul Newman, of Oxford University´s engineering science department, says the technology could be especially valuable for drivers who perform regular routes.

"We are working on a low-cost auto drive navigation system that doesn´t depend on GPS, done with discreet sensors that are getting cheaper all the time," says Newman. "It´s easy to imagine that this kind of technology could be in a car you could buy."

RobotCar can be driven manually utilizing the lasers and cameras as "eyes," creating a 3D model of its surroundings. The car can use this map to "remember" roads and suburbs, allowing it to drive itself along familiar routes.

The researchers developed the car to be able to ask the driver through an iPad on the dashboard whether they want to engage the autopilot, which is a feature that allows the car to take over the controls.

A laser installed underneath the front bumper of the car scans the direction of travel for obstacles around 13 times per second, looking for things like cyclists and other cars that sit up to 164 feet ahead within an 85 degree field of view.

If the car picks up on an obstacle, it slows down and comes to a controlled stop. During this, the driver can tap the brake pedal, as well, in order to regain control of the car at any time.

"Our approach is made possible because of advances in 3D laser mapping that enable an affordable car-based robotic system to rapidly build up a detailed picture of its surroundings," said Professor Newman. "Because our cities don't change very quickly robotic vehicles will know and look out for familiar structures as they pass by so that they can ask a human driver 'I know this route, do you want me to drive?' and the driver can choose to let the technology take over."

He said we should start imagining a time when all cars can drive themselves some of the time, rather than driving themselves all of the time.

"The sort of very low cost, low footprint autonomy we are developing is what´s needed for everyday use," Newman added.

Next, the scientists want to make the car recognize and understand the complex traffic flows and create a system to make decisions on which routes to take.

"While there´s lots more work to do, it shows the potential for this kind of affordable robotic system that could make our car journeys safer, more efficient and more pleasant for drivers," said Newman.

Earlier this year, at the 2013 International CES, car companies showed off their advances in autonomous vehicles. Toyota and Lexus demonstrated an LS600h, capable of driving itself around, while Audi showed it has a system that allows cars to go out and find a parking space.

Google has been tinkering with this automated driving technology with an upgraded Toyota Prius. The company has been releasing videos of their self-driving cars in action, and even have shown a blind man in the driver's seat.