17 Jan 2019   |   Network News

Innovate UK: Oxbotica develops AI-based brain for self driving cars


Funding of £8.6 million will allow AI software company Oxbotica to ramp up testing of autonomous vehicles on UK roads.

The DRIVEN project, funded through Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, will put a fleet of 6 autonomous vehicles, driven by Oxbotica’s software, into public trials in Oxford and London.

The company already has vehicles on Oxford’s roads on a daily basis, with cars set to hit London’s streets imminently.

Creating the ‘brain’ of autonomous vehicles

Oxbotica spun out of Oxford University in 2014, developing its technology over a series of Innovate UK-supported projects.

As a result, the company now produces 2 pieces of software. The first is Selenium, the ‘brain’ of an autonomous vehicle. It combines data from vehicle sensors to help the vehicle answer the questions; “where am I?”, “what’s around me?” and “what do I do?”

The second is Caesium, a cloud-based fleet management system to co-ordinate multiple vehicles and allow them to exchange data without human interaction.

The most recent DRIVEN project was carried out by partners including communications firms Nominet and Telefonica, insurance provider AXA XL, and transport and council bodies like Transport for London and Oxfordshire County Council among others.

Despite the project’s success, the public is unlikely to be in control of autonomous vehicles any time soon.

Oxbotica’s CEO Graeme Smith believes the public will initially benefit through the use of autonomous vehicles in public service and commercial ventures.

To be available for use by the public, autonomous vehicles need to be fully joined up in their operation and communication. This was one of the primary aims of the DRIVEN project.

Graeme says:

Based on our current trials, we’re likely to see autonomous vehicles solely operating in very specific areas at first, for example, transporting passengers between airport terminals and luggage to airplanes.

But in the long-term, when the right regulations are in place, autonomous road vehicles could transport passengers around urban routes and eventually on longer journeys.

Significantly improving safety on UK roads

Autonomous – or driverless – vehicles could have a significant impact on the safety of our roads.

Vehicles with artificial intelligence use sensors to recognise the environment around them and make instant decisions upon detection of obstacles.

A key benefit is that they aren’t prone to human traits such as tiredness, lapses in concentration, or other impairments. A study has found that 1 in 6 crashes resulting in death or injury on major roads are fatigue-related.

Automation in new environments

For Oxbotica, it’s also about applying the technology to different types of vehicles, not just cars, that can work in complex and diverse environments.

Graeme says:

Whether that’s on a road, down a mine, in a warehouse, or around a port or airport.

Our technology uses camera and lasers to pinpoint vehicles, no matter the weather or the lighting conditions - and without relying on GPS.

The DRIVEN project also aims to connect different areas of technology and continue to improve the field while pushing for new legislation. Graeme concludes:

With the right technology in place, autonomous vehicles are much safer than ordinary cars for drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

This is why it’s imperative for autonomous vehicle manufacturers to reassure the public that they are doing everything they can to avoid accidents on the road, and to show how autonomous vehicles will ultimately make roads safer.

Furthermore, as the demand for autonomous vehicles grows, we can expect to see a vast influx of new jobs that will play a major role in boosting the UK economy.

The UK is investing in self-driving vehicles through its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund driverless cars challenge. Find out more about the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the driverless cars challenge.

This release was first published 15 January 2019 by Innovate UK.

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