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Oxford Uni becomes a driving force in autonomous car tech

By raccars Published


Government-funded project sees Oxford Uni group take on the likes of Google and Tesla.

Car giants around the world are battling it out for supremacy as the technology underpinning self-driving cars moves towards the mainstream. But one company taking on the likes of Tesla is not a vehicle manufacturer it all - it is an Oxford University off-shoot. Oxbotica, set up as a spin-off to the renowned university, is working on its own fully autonomous mini-car, which is effectively a two-seater pod which can quite literally drive itself.

The car with the robotic brain

Oxbotica is not a car specialist, however, rather it is focused on creating and honing a robotic brain to run self-driving vehicles. This ‘brain’ is known as Selenium. Oxbotica’s expertise goes far beyond simply building the lasers and sensors used to guide a car along roads. It produces entire system software which processes data and continually improves.

The technology is said to have a future in a far wider range of applications than merely cars. The group’s inventions are already used in forklifts in warehouses, on the Mars rover used by NASA and in mining lorries. It is this variety of uses, according to group founder Paul Newman, that should allow Oxbotica to compete with more established, larger rivals such as Google.

Oxbotica’s accounts have not been disclosed but the management team claims that it has never failed to make an annual profit, although the group has only been set up as an independent firm for under two years.

Not always first in the car game

Professor Newman indicates that the group wants to see its technology being used in ‘all’ moving things and thanks Google for making ‘the market possible’. He says, however, that being first into the market does not necessarily mean that an organisation will stay in first place forever. Professor Newman says that people ask why Oxbotica is bothering when there are the players the size of Google working in the field but he compares this to Dell electing not to make computers just because IBM is in existence.

Professor Newman says applications of the technology in the likes of driverless cars or pods, forklifts, taxis and general cars can benefit as they ‘learn’ from each other.

Government funding boosts car innovation

The company will roll out its driverless pods in Milton Keynes and Greenwich using its systems as part of a range of programmes funded in part by the Government in a bid to boost the development of driverless technology by UK organisations and businesses. This investment, which involves as much as £100 million being used to fund research projects, has meant that similar schemes could be started in Bristol and Coventry.

Oxbotica is said to have benefited from several million pounds in funding and its technology will be used in driverless taxi pods which will be put to use in some pedestrianised areas of Greenwich in London. These pods should be able to learn from their driving experiences, becoming more attuned to their environments as they learn about local conditions and roads.

Taking on the Google giants

Oxbotica, however, will still have to prove its mettle when faced with the likes of Google, which has amassed huge amounts of driving data through testing its driverless car technology in California.

Other competitors are spending vast amounts of time and have devoted substantial resources to mapping roads in order to produce comprehensive information for autonomous systems. BMW and Ford are both focusing on the production of driverless technology, predicting that this should be being commercially produced by the next decade. Volvo, meanwhile, is partnering with Uber in order to produce self-driving taxis.

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