Following in the footsteps of other automakers who are building large test fleets for connected and autonomous technologies, Jaguar Land Rover executives announced they intend to begin testing a fleet of more than 100 connected and self-driving cars on public roads in the U.K. over the next four years.
Real-world testing of the vehicles will begin later this year on 41 miles of highways and urban roads outside Birmingham. The initial tests will evaluate a spate of enhanced driver-assistance technologies that combine and enhance existing features or rely on new vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems that allow both motorists and cars to respond to real-time information provided by other cars, traffic signs, and road infrastructure.
James Towle, global product strategy director, characterized the features as “tech to suit the driven and the autonomous car.”
One feature the carmaker is developing—in cooperation with supplier Bosch—is an enhancement of lane-keeping assist that helps drivers identify and navigate through construction zones. With high vehicle speeds, nearby workers, and unusual road terrain, construction zones are considered one of the most high-stakes environments for fledgling semi-autonomous technologies.
The so-called Roadwork Assist uses a forward-facing stereoscopic camera and image-processing software to identify cones and barriers. The system will inform the driver that a construction zone is ahead and apply small amounts of steering assistance to help motorists stay centered in their lane. “Our prototype system will guide the vehicle to the center of the narrow lane, reducing driver workload and stress,” research chief Tony Harper said. “With further research, in the future the system could enable the car to drive autonomously through roadworks.”
Other features in the testing portfolio include an emergency-vehicle warning that provides motorists with alerts that ambulances, police cars, or fire engines are approaching before drivers can actually see them; another system automatically applies brakes in low-speed situations if drivers start accelerating when other vehicles or garage walls are detected, and a V2V system receives warnings from other cars and warns drivers of hazards over the horizon or around bends in the road.
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There’s no current timetable on when any of these enhanced features might reach the market, nor for when the tests will shift focus to testing features that rely more heavily on autonomy. A company spokesperson says the fleet will include “a mixture” of Jaguar and Land Rover models.
Other automakers have projects planned with similar-size test fleets. Volvo is rolling out semi-autonomous tests in 2017 that utilize up to 100 cars on public roads in Gothenburg, Sweden; London, England; and China. Google and Fiat Chrysler recently formed a partnership to create approximately 100 self-driving minivans.
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