Autonomous systems: Take control with new technology
11 August 2016
Last month, premium British manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover opened its doors to the media from around the world to give a glimpse into the future of technology, and the things that it is working on to make life easier, more convenient and safer for drivers of its cars.
The company is quick to say that, while it's working on autonomous technology, the idea is that it will enhance, rather than replace, the driving experience.
"We are talking about autonomous not driverless; it is a clear difference and we do not simply want to replace the driver," says Jaguar Land Rover global product strategy director James Towle. "Autonomous technology needs to give the driver more, not less.
"In traffic the driver could choose to use autonomy for the tedious parts of the journey, but if they want to experience the thrill of driving, on- or off-road, they can, and the systems will operate in the background, always alert and able to see over the horizon," he continues. "We're talking about driver-focused-enabled vehicles."
Towle says a key goal for JLR is to ensure the autonomous systems act in the same way as a driver would, which is why the company is going to put 100 autonomous vehicles into development, testing a range of connected car and autonomous technologies over the next four years.
As part of this, a 41-mile test route around the Midlands will be established, taking in motorway and urban environments. "In time, drivers will experience the benefits and feel comfortable using them, but to generate trust drivers will want these cars to react in situations just as they would," Towle explains. "But an autonomous Jaguar or Land Rover of the future will not be robotic - it will retain JLR character."
Below, BusinessCar explains the key technological progressions under development that JLR allowed us to sample.
Effectively the reverse of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) systems, Safe Pullaway will stop those really irritating accidents where a moment of inattention causes a driver to run into the back of a car that they thought had already pulled away at, for example, a roundabout, or instances where the driver thought they had selected reverse but had, in fact, chosen first gear or drive (depending on whether the vehicle is a manual or an automatic).
If the camera senses a car, wall or other object ahead, it applies the brakes and warns the driver of an impending incident if they continue to push the throttle.
BusinessCar says: A very useful system that would practically eliminate those silly but costly and inconvenient accidents caused by a second of lost concentration. It feels like you're trying to pull away with the handbrake fully applied, and will successfully prevent minor collisions
Overhead Clearance Assist
This system has on- and off-road functions, and is designed to prevent vehicles, and in particular anything that is carried on the roof, from being damaged by either low car park barriers or low-hanging trees, depending on the terrain being tackled.
The system, in its development form, has three standard settings for the vehicle itself, or with a regular roofbox or bicycle on the top, and can also be manually programmed to any height required, such as if kayaks are being carried.
The camera measures the height of upcoming obstructions and gives the driver a countdown in metres to it, as well as how much taller the car is than the obstruction. JLR says this functionality is key to the development of future autonomous vehicles and provides drivers with a 360° awareness of their environment.
BusinessCar says: Anyone that has ever damaged a bike that they forgot was on the roof would have been saved, and on Jaguar Land Rover's larger SUVs this will give drivers car park piece of mind, but the off-road usage would presumably be limited as not many Range Rovers are likely to be far enough off-road to be crashing through low branches
An extension of the lane-keep assist function already available in many cars, rather than reacting to the edge of a lane and steering the car back towards the middle, the Roadwork Assist function reads two lines of cones marking out a single lane and positions the car centrally between them. Still described by JLR as an aid rather than an autonomous function, the system uses quite obvious and proactive steering inputs that can be overridden by the driver.
BusinessCar says: As far as UK roadworks are concerned, the only real use for this system would be in contraflows where there is a single lane coned off, generally on the other carriageway. Keeping the car in the centre of the lane rather than reacting when it reaches the edge of it is, though, the logical next step for lane-keep assist functions.
This is potentially a very significant development in terms of driver information, and something JLR is working on as part of a consortium called Connected Intelligence Transport Environment, which includes Highways England, Vodaphone, Coventry City Council and Seimens, among others. There are three strands, each designed to help drivers locate hazards, and as yet it's not decided whether the alerts should appear on the car's screen, dashboard or in some other form.
The first is an emergency vehicle alert, which would most likely work via a transmitter in blue-light vehicles, that relays to drivers the direction that vehicles on emergency calls are approaching from, and their distance away.
The second string would allow stranded vehicles to send out a message to warn approaching traffic that there is a problem, such as a breakdown or puncture, which would work especially well on country roads, where vehicles can be stranded in precarious positions.
The final part is enabling the car to repeat highways agency information from gantries and mobile matrix signs.
As these are direct communication technologies they don't require a phone signal, and the long-term idea is that a standard format will be established so car-to-car and infrastructure-to-car communication is completely compatible, regardless of brand.
Looking further ahead, there is the potential for authorities to take data from cars - presumably only on an opt-in basis - to monitor everything from whether lights, wipers and fog lights are activated to help warn of severe weather, through to vehicle speed for more rapid traffic congestion warnings. It could also help alert the authorities and other drivers approaching issues such as an accident, debris or other incidents, if there are reports of sudden braking, and go as far as helping to locate severe potholes; JLR's engineers suggested, too, that a car might be able to inform the driver of the speed they would need to travel at in order to arrive at a set of traffic lights as they change to green.
There is also the possibility of an app that would offer at least some of the same information as the in-car system, for people that don't have a vehicle fitted with the new technology when it makes it to production models.
BusinessCar says: A simple and very effective solution that is reasonably straightforward from a manufacturer perspective, certainly compared with some of the technology on show, but will be made too complicated by the number of parties that need to be working together - from rival manufacturers to local authorities and Government bodies - to provide a real benefit. But it's clever, useful and well worth persisting with. The key development from a manufacturer's point of view will be how to deliver the right quantity and quality of accurate information in a useful and non-distracting way.
Co-operative Adaptive Cruise Control
Co-operative Adaptive Cruise Control, also known as platooning, is being trialled by other brands such as Volvo, which has a project running in Sweden at the moment, and the Government has confirmed plans for a programme to see how it could work for trucks in the UK.
Vehicles communicate with each other in terms of braking and acceleration, allowing them to run much closer together than regular adaptive cruise control, which uses radar to automatically brake the car if it senses slower or slowing traffic ahead.
Those systems generally run at a one second gap to the car ahead, with 0.8 seconds the lowest allowed, but JLR's C-ACC uses a 0.4-second gap, which means if widely adopted it could improve the amount of roadspace available, and also reduce emissions thanks to the slipstreaming effect of closely following another car. When the front car brakes or slows, it sends an immediate message to the vehicle behind, making the following cars' reactions instantaneous, unlike adaptive cruise control systems that have to sense the car ahead actually slowing before they are able to react.
This development is part of the work being carried out by car-to-car consortium, set up to ensure all cars from different manufacturers 'speak the same language' and are able to communicate regardless of brand.
The technology is also the basis for a system being developed for off-road use, where cars can be grouped together and mirror the off-road settings used, at the point they were deployed, by the lead vehicle, as well as tracking the location of each vehicle in a convoy so lead drivers can see where the other vehicles are, and following drivers know the vehicle ahead has cleared an unsighted descent, for example.
This Off-road Connected Convoy mode could also be used on-road if a group of vehicles are travelling together to help them take the same route if one vehicle loses sight of another, and to alert other vehicles if one of the rear members has a problem.
BusinessCar says: This sort of technology is clearly coming, and will slowly progress across the road network once it has begun being fitted to new cars. Uniformity of technology for all manufacturers is vital, and knowing the car industry, not guaranteed, but the safety, emissions and roadspace benefits are clear to see.
Terrain-Based Speed Adaption
Land Rover already offers what is basically a low-speed off-road cruise control with its All-Terrain Progress Control setting that maintains a steady speed between 1-18mph automatically when off-roading. But the Terrain-Based Speed Adaption system is effectively an adaptive cruise control for off-road, that can read the terrain up to 30 metres ahead and adapt the vehicle's speed accordingly.
The driver still has to steer, but the car looks after acceleration and braking, with a stereo camera scanning the terrain ahead and setting the appropriate speed. It will also function reactively based on information from the car's systems as it hits bumps and ruts, while JLR engineers have programmed four levels, allowing the driver to prioritise degrees of speed or comfort.
In addition, TBSA engineers are also developing a system called Surface ID, which is still very much in early prototype phase. Using sensors on the front of the car sending and receiving ultrasonic signals, the vehicle can spot any change in surface and preemptively set the car's off-road system to the right setting for the surface.
The key advantage, according to engineers, is that the current off-road system needs to experience a degree of slippage from the wheels to realize that the vehicle is on wet grass, for example, whereas Surface ID would know before the wheels even touch the grass, and arm the car ahead of any loss of traction.
BusinessCar says: The TBSA system is pretty impressive, and worked well in the test environment we experienced it in. Surface ID is a little further into the future, and the benefits aren't quite as significant as with the TBSA, which would make life easier for even the most novice driver going off-road.