VIDEO | Driverless cars tested on track
Driverless cars haven’t taken to the streets of Coventry just yet – but it won’t be long.
As early as next year autonomous vehicle trials will be taking place on Coventry’s roads but for now they’re confined to controlled environments such as the Horiba Mira proving ground in Nuneaton.
The state-of-the art advanced engineering, research and testing facility has played host to the UK’s first collaborative trials of connected and autonomous vehicles.
The £20million research and development project, known as UK Autodrive, involves Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Tata Motors European Technical Centre.
So what’s it like to be driven in one?
Business reporter Enda Mullen was lucky/brave enough to experience it first-hand…
The sensation of being driven around a track in a vehicle that is essentially in control of itself is a strange one at first but it is surprising just how quickly you get used to it.
We took to the Mira track in a super high-tech Range Rover Sport with two of Land Rover’s engineers working on the Coventry car maker’s autonomous vehicle technology.
At the wheel was Amy Rimmer, the research engineer who has programmed the computer piloting the vehicle.
She explained how she was driving the vehicle initially but once she pressed a particular button the computer would take over.
The transition was pretty seamless and though it felt a little unnerving I soon felt comfortable, perhaps helped by the super-smooth Tarmac surface of the proving ground but also the absence of other vehicles.
However before too long other cars came into the mix in the shape of two more Range Rover Sports driven by ‘real people’.
I then got to see how the driverless car could overtake all on its own and when another car appeared in our blind spot how it wouldn’t overtake the car in front as it wasn’t safe to do so.
All in all it was a pretty amazing experience, not wholly unlike some of the more advanced adaptive cruise control technology available in some cars now but taking it to an altogether different level and giving a real sense of the benefits driverless cars might be able to bring.
The connected car experience might be a little less dramatic but is no less remarkable.
In a Tata Tiago and a Jaguar F-Pace we drove in a queue of cars to experience how radio signals sent from a car in front, or even two cars in front, could give us advance warning to brake as another car had come to a sudden halt.
It’s the sort of technology that could not only improve traffic flow on the motorway but also prove a potential life-saver.
Then it showed how by managing speed within a set band, highlighted on the dash, approaching a ‘connected’ traffic light meant it would turn green by the time we got to it.
So how does it all work?
The project, jointly funded by government and industry, will start to trial connected and autonomous Ford and Jaguar Land Rover vehicles on public roads in Coventry and Milton Keynes from next year.
At first the trials will be on closed off roads but ultimately they will take place on public roads.
The technologies being developed will ultimately pave the way for the driverless cars of the future with a view to making driving safer and the movement of traffic smoother.
Autonomous vehicle technology is, as the name suggests, about self-driving vehicles, while connected car technology is about vehicles that can communicate with each other and infrastructure.
At Horiba Mira, connected vehicle technologies showcased how vehicles can warn their drivers if another connected vehicle ahead has braked severely, lowering the risk of rear-end collisions when the driver’s view is obscured.
Also how connected cars can be sent information from traffic lights, allowing them to reduce the likelihood of meeting red lights – potentially improving future traffic flow and lowering emissions in urban areas.
A special Range Rover Sport created by Land Rover demonstrated probably the most dramatic aspect of the technologies being developed, piloting its own way around theHoriba Mira track and overtaking cars being driven by ‘real people’.
It also showed off safety elements such as not overtaking when it wasn’t safe to do so and the process by which control of the vehicle transfers between the computer and a ‘human’ driver.
Coventry City Council is one of the partners in the project and for connected and autonomous vehicles to take off it is essential to have local authorities involved as part of the development of the connected infrastructure that can see them become an everyday reality.