Cars

Cars

Self-driving car given UK test run at Oxford University

A car that is able to drive itself on familiar routes has been shown off at an event at Oxford University The BBC’s Richard Westcott tests out the self-driving car The technology uses lasers and small cameras to memorise regular journeys like the commute or the school run. The engineers and researchers behind the project are aiming to produce a low-cost system that “takes the strain” off drivers. Other companies, such as Google, have also been testing driverless vehicle technology. The search giant has pushed for law changes 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 the UK, 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, who is working alongside machine learning specialist Dr Ingmar Posner. Gaining ‘experiences’ Until the car can hit the streets, the team is testing it out in a specially-made environment at Begbroke Science Park 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”. The BBC’s Richard Westcott tests out the self-driving car “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.” Spinning lasers At the moment, the complete system costs around £5,000 – but Prof Newman hopes that future models will bring the price of the technology down to as low as £100. Autonomous technology is being tested by several car manufacturers and technology companies. Simple self-driving tasks, such as cars that can park themselves, are already in use across the industry. The Holy Grail is a fully-autonomous vehicle that is location-aware, safe and affordable. Google has been testing its car for several years, with the company boasting of 300,000 computer-driven miles without an accident. While at an earlier stage of development, Oxford University’s car has significant key differences to Google’s offering, Prof Newman said. “Well if you look at it, we don’t need a 3D laser spinning on the roof that’s really expensive – so that’s one thing straight away. I think our car has a lower profile.” He added: “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. “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?’” Prof Newman applauded Google’s efforts in innovating in the space – but was buoyant about the role British expertise could have in the industry. “This is all UK intellectual property, getting into the [driverless car] race

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SLS AMG Roadster becomes Merc 300

Gullwing America transforms modern Merc supercar into classic 1955 Merc superstar. Beautiful We’re all about the modem retro here on Top Gear (remember the Eagle Speedster?) and this particular project has caught our eye. It’s a recreation of the classic Mercedes 300 SC, sitting on top of a SLS Roadster. And it’s ruddy gorgeous. Customiser Gullwing America was contacted by a client in Eastern Europe who wanted something a bit special, and special he got: this retro Benz is a one-off. Apparently the conversion from SLS drop top into ‘SLC’, as the one off is dubbed, required little change. The headlights were moulded into the stacked configuration of yore, while the spoiler was relocated behind the cabin. Of course, an old Merc requires an old grille, and GWA has fitted one reminiscent of the era, sitting ahead of a hand-crafted body made from aluminium. The nod to the 21st century lies in adjustable suspension, 21in wheels up front (22in at the back) and a custom exhaust. There’s no word on engine or performance, but we doubt anyone would have dared replace a 563bhp 6.2 litre V8 that sounds like an angry horde of Vikings on a charge. It will come with a hardtop too, though with that V8, it might not be necessary. Important car, the old 300, as we found out after a little trip to the Mercedes Benz museum. At the time, the saloon version was the first big Mercedes of the then new Federal Republic, and was the car of choice of the Chancellor of Germany. And of course, a car bearing the name 300 SL remain the prettiest Mercedes Benz ever made. There is no argument. We’re guessing you’re currently in the process of deciding which internal organ you least require, ahead of a sweaty-palmed phonecall to GWA, correct? But, if not this, which is your favourite retro/modern configuration? Don’t forget, that E-Type Speedster was a lovely bit of kit too…

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In Canada, a budget twofer from Mercedes

On Valentine’s Day in Toronto, there was domestic bliss at the Mercedes-Benz stand The Mercedes-Benz B250 was on display at the 2013 Toronto auto show The recently redesigned B-Class hatchback, which began European sales in late 2011, sat dutifully by as Mercedes-Benz Canada executives discussed the coming CLA250, the entry-level compact luxury sedan due to arrive in North American showrooms this summer with a sub-$30,000 price tag. There was, however, an absent jealous lover. Mercedes-Benz USA has long vexed over the plight of the B-Class, an upright five-passenger hatchback that, in its latest iteration, has sold more than 150,000 units around the world. Though it has been a fixture of US auto shows, first as a lease-only fuel-cell vehicle and later as a purely electric model, for roughly two years, Mercedes-Benz has not committed to offering the B-Class for sale in the States. The case for the car’s inclusion in the Canadian market, which will also absorb the CLA this summer, boils down to prevailing purchasing attitudes. “There’s still the perception, right or wrong, that the US isn’t willing to accept hatchbacks,” Chris Goczan, product manager for Mercedes-Benz Canada, told BBC Autos in an interview. “Here in Canada, the B-Class has been around since 2005. It’s a solidly Canadian product.” Though pricing for the CLA has not been announced in Canada, the B250 is listed at $29,990 in the local currency. There will never be much pricing daylight between the twosome. What, then, about the Canadian buyer allows Mercedes to offer both comfortably, without fear of one cannibalising the other?

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Why do Americans not drive diesels?

In Europe, if a motorist wants to drive a small car that feels like a big one, there is a diesel for every occasion A paragon of the breed: Volkswagen’s 2-litre TDI engine, as seen in the Passat midsize sedan. (Volkswagen Group) A 1.6-litre turbodiesel delivers the torque surge of a much larger gasoline engine, yet with the fuel efficiency of a much smaller one. In the UK, diesel sales account for more than half of all cars sold, and even with a stat like that, Britain lags the rest of Europe, which has long preferred diesel to gas. So why would more Americans not drive diesels? From the European perspective, it would suit the driving style of the States perfectly, with lots of relaxed muscle available at low rpms to cruise vast interstate networks that are the envy of the world. Better mileage means fewer fill-ups, and the on-paper improvements in fuel economy would, overnight, take the US fleet one massive step toward President Obama’s targeted 54.5 mpg national average by 2025. Simply stated, diesel should “work” in the US. “But what do Britons know about our market?” an American might opine. Quite a lot. In significant ways, the diesel market in the US is similar to that of the UK three decades ago. In the UK of the 1980s, diesel drivers were outcasts. They were required to fill up around the back of the station, over by the truckers, to be looked upon by gasoline burners with a mixture of pity and smugness. And that presumed diesel drivers could even find somewhere to fill up, as not every filling station bothered to stock their fuel. This sheer lack of availability led to great variability in pricing. As the only filling-station proprietor in 25 miles to stock diesel, Mr. Smith could subsequently charge more or less whatever he wanted. A survey of diesel prices in the US illustrates a similarly maddening snapshot of how scarcity can produce wide price fluctuations, with pump prices varying by up to 50 cents a gallon. But with more diesel purchasers, the laws of the marketplace would kick in, bringing prices into greater alignment. Given the need for low-sulfur refining, diesel would not necessarily become cheaper than premium in the US. It is pricier on the other side of the Pond, too, but although Europeans gripe about it, they still know the savings add up. Diesel generally returns 30% better mileage than gas, and in the dominion of $8 gallons, this is no small advantage. Mind you, there are two distinct factors working in favour of Europeans’ wallets: fuel with a higher cetane rating, which makes it easier to control NOx emissions, and EU emissions standards that are generally comparable to the US’s Tier 2 standards in all areas apart from, yes, NOx. Even our EU 6 standards, due in 2015, do not quite match the States’ strict limits on smog- and acid rain-causing emissions. Relative to a gasoline-burning engine, it is more difficult to control NOx in a diesel, which is why, to meet those comparatively stricter emissions limits, diesels in the US are required to use expensive, onboard after-treatment systems, which decrease the amount of particulate matter that leaves the tailpipe. Diesel engines are already more expensive to develop than gasoline units, given their turbos and complex injection systems. After-treatment systems make them even pricier. Here’s the thing: It’s worth it. ...

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Kia Rondo, redeemed?

Shapely and spacious, the people mover reinforces the Korean brand’s ascendance Kia Rondo introduced on 14 February at the Toronto auto show The Rondo was once as frumpy and forgettable as its manufacturer. Now, guided by the hand of the automaker’s design-focused president, Peter Schreyer, the Rondo and Kia occupy a position of strength. The latest evidence came on 14 February at the 2013 Toronto auto show, where the 2014 Kia Rondo made its North American debut. Last shown in fall in Paris, the Rondo – marketed in Europe as the Carens – was a known entity heading into Toronto, but its presence was no less momentous. Available in five- or seven-seat configurations, the Rondo is every bit as spacious as competitors like the Ford C-Max multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), but has significantly more style. Ford has wagered that its C-Max, formerly only available in Europe, may win over buyers in the United States. That is a risk that Kia, at least for now, is not willing to assume. “They don’t sell it in the US,” said Robert Staffieri, director of marketing for Kia Motors Canada, speaking with BBC Autos. “So why wouldn’t we call it the North American debut?” Why not, indeed. Source :BBC

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