RobotCar is a modified Nissan LEAF. Lasers and cameras are subtly mounted around the vehicle and taking up some of the boot space is a computer which performs all the calculations necessary to plan, control speed and avoid obstacles. Externally it’s hard to tell this car apart from any other on the road.
The whole user experience is provided by an iPad which quickly guides the user through the few checks that are needed to induce autonomy. When it is safe to do so, the car offers the drive the chance to be driven automatically. Here is a video showing that process. At any time the driver can take back control of the car by touching the brake – it’s exactly like cruise control in an existing vehicle – only this time the car sees obstacles, controls speed and steering. It feels very natural.
Control and Sensing
We have modified the base Nissan LEAF systems to allow complete fly-by-wire control. Everything from the steering to the indicators can be manipulated by the main vehicle computer in the boot. RobotCar senses the world in two main ways. The first uses a pair of stereo cameras to assess the road and navigate, much like a human driver’s eyes. The second is a little different and uses several lasers mounted around the vehicle. These sensors assess the 3D structure of the world and also improve performance at night.
The vehicle is all electric. This means no carbon emissions and very high efficiency. Rather than filling up with petrol, when RobotCar is out of energy simply plug into the mains to replenish its batteries’ charge.