Picture this: your car driving by itself along the M1 as you sit back and relax – now hold that thought.
Oxford University have recently been running tests on a car at one of their recent events to see if it can drive by itself on familiar routes.
The technology uses lasers and small cameras to memorise regular journeys, such as the school run or the morning rush hour to work.
The engineers and researchers behind the project are aiming to produce a low cost system that “takes the strain” off drivers – which could see the end of all those endless adverts reminding you to take a break when you’re feeling tired behind the wheel.
However, despite being one of the leading universities of the world, Oxford isn’t the only who has been testing this technological revelation out, with other companies such as Google also testing driverless vehicle technology.
In California, the search giant has pushed for law changes over the last few years in California to allow its car to be tried out in real-life situations.
The Oxford RobotCar UK project is seeking to do the same in this country, said Prof Paul Newman from Oxford University’s department of engineering science.
“We’re working with the Department of Transport to get some miles on the road in the UK,” said Prof Newman.
But until the car can hit the streets, the team behind this project is testing it out in a specially made environment at Begbroke Science Part in Oxfordshire.
“It’s not like a racetrack – it’s a light industrial site with roads and road markings,” Prof Newman told the BBC.
“Crucial for us, it can show our navigation and control system working.
“It’s not depending on GPS, digging up the roads or anything like that – it’s just the vehicles knowing where they are because they recognise their surroundings.”
The technology allows the car to “take over” when driving on routes it has already travelled.
“The key word for us is that the car gains ‘experiences’,” Prof Newman explained.
“The car is driven by a human, and it builds a 3D model of its environment.”
When it goes on the same journey again, an iPad built into the dashboard gives a prompt to the driver – offering to let the computer “take the wheel”.
“Touching the screen then switches to ‘auto drive’ where the robotic system takes over, Prof Newman added.
“At any time, a tap on the brake pedal will return control to the human driver.”
This almost all sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, that is a question that remains to be unanswered, a question which also comes with a hefty £5,000 price tag – however, Prof Paul Newman hopes that future models will bring the price of the technology down to as low as £100.
Although it is still early days yet, these tests have certainly proven positive in the projects long term ambitions, and Prof Newman believes that the day we see driverless cars on the road might not be as long as we think: “I would be astounded if we don’t see this kind of technology in cars within 15 YEARS. That is going to be huge.”