Hitting the Road

A Range Rover Sport has completed the first ever self-driving lap of one of the UK’s most challenging road layouts; Peter Wooding looks at the next step in the region’s autonomous push. 

A prototype self-driving Range Rover Sport has taken on the notoriously complex Coventry Ring Road, successfully changing lanes, merging with traffic and exiting junctions at the speed limit of 40mph. The trial is part of a £20 million government-funded project named UK Autodrive, which ends this month after a three-year programme. UK Autodrive is the largest of three UK consortia launched to support the introduction of self-driving vehicles into the UK. It brings together leading technology and automotive businesses, forward-thinking local authorities and academic institutions to deliver advanced autonomous and connected vehicle testing. The overall goal of the project is to integrate autonomous and connected vehicles into real-world urban environments while showing how autonomous and connected vehicles could solve everyday challenges such as congestion, accidents and even pollution.

The vehicle itself is a great achievement for Jaguar Land Rover, whose engineers completed significant self-driving technology testing on closed tracks before heading onto public roads in Milton Keynes and Coventry. This particular Range Rover Sport has been modified to include additional navigation sensors such as RADAR, which is an object-detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects and LIDAR, which measures the distance to a target by illuminating it with pulsed laser light and measuring with a sensor. Through these two systems, the vehicle is able to create a digital 3D representation and build a high-resolution map of its surroundings. This allows it to be as safe and efficient as possible, to ensure consumers that autonomous vehicles will revolutionise conventional transportation and improve day-to-day life. 

Coupled with UK Autodrive’s research, the vehicle can now autonomously manoeuvre through roundabouts, traffic lights, pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles on complicated roads. At the end of its journey, the vehicle can also park itself. Mark Cund, Jaguar Land Rover Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager, says that it was important to take on a more challenging environment to prove autonomous technology can operate and simplify most complex situations. “The Coventry Ring Road is known for its complicated slip roads and exits. It makes for very challenging conditions, especially when under pressure in the rush hour. Our self-driving car is not impacted by the same pressure, frustrations or fatigue that a driver may experience and so it’s capable of turning a potentially very stressful situation into a completely stress-free one,”

22-23 January 2019

Coventry University Technology Park

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By removing the stress and aggravation experienced when driving through the Ring Road, passengers can sit back and let the car do the work. This creates new possibilities for consumers in the future, such as working or relaxing in the vehicle. However, for now, vehicles with autonomous technology still require complete attention from the driver in case of an accident. In years to come, this will develop into a new experience that will change the characteristics of the vehicle, from interior design to the software found inside. 

To conclude, the partnership between UK Autodrive and Jaguar Land Rover is a great representation of the Midlands’ position as a hub of mobility innovation. It encapsulates a vision of self-driving vehicles over multiple terrains and weather conditions, truly understanding how these vehicles will work in real-world scenarios. Developments such as this are spreading across the UK, as the region becomes a leader in future mobility solutions, with many transport hubs appearing around the country. The UK has quickly become a Petri dish of transport solutions, design and technology, so expect to see a lot of autonomous cars and pods driving on roads very soon. 

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