Autonomous cars – Jaguar Land Rover says that it puts the driver back in control

Posted on August 19th, 2016 by Rob Marshall

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Autonomous motoring has become one of the buzz-words of recent years. Yet, at this stage, different strategies are being adopted, dependent on the car manufacturer that is developing the technology and which government is pumping-in the cash.

Obviously, any enhancement in safety must be embraced openly. However, the notion of a vehicle that can communicate with the outside world and drive itself opens up vast technical, legal and safety questions, such as who is responsible ultimately for the vehicle? Who owns the data generated? How easily can the systems be hacked remotely? Can legislation be evolved adequately to ensure that such vehicles are legal and safe?

All of these questions (and more) are based upon a popular view of autonomous cars as being in complete control. Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) believes that this is incorrect and argues that its own vehicles will be safer, because autonomous technologies will act in an unobtrusive supporting role for the driver, rather than taking over.

While a JLR spokesman told the trade press that its own autonomous developments will improve traffic flow, congestion, air quality and safety, the driver will become neither confused, nor overburdened. The company also reports that the driver will be able to decide how much support they need from such technologies.

JLR reports that it is planning to test its latest developments in Coventry later this year, with a 100 vehicle-strong fleet, which include:

Roadwork Assist (pictured) – A front-mounted camera detects both cones and barriers and assists the driver to guide the car through narrow lanes. Either steering assistance will be employed, or the driver will be warned that the road is narrowing ahead. Personally, I question if a driver should be allowed on the road, if motorway roadworks cannot be negotiated without external aids.

Overhead Clearance Function – Using the same camera, this ensures that the car’s roof does not strike overhead structures. The system can be configured to consider items loaded onto the roof, including bicycles and roof racks, usefully.

Safe Pullaway – This applies the brakes, when the vehicle thinks the car is about to hit the car in-front (although I do not see how this differs from existing auto-brake systems that are fitted to so many new cars).

Over The Horizon provides a means of alerting the driver of hazards ahead, including heavy braking of the vehicle in-front.

Emergency Vehicle Warning – Connected emergency vehicles would be able to broadcast their presence to passenger cars, before a driver might hear the sirens.

Partnering with Highways England, JLR believes that it would be possible to time a vehicle with traffic lights (and other traffic-flow hardware, such as motorway message boards) to enhance safe traffic flow and provide more instantaneous and reliable digital signage.

While I can see the advantages in these developments, I suspect that JLR is adopting a more softly-softly approach to the fully automated car, not just to increase public acceptance of the technology but also to give the company a marketing head-start, so that it is ready to react more quickly, when (or if) totally autonomous cars become road legal.

The main problem that I have with this stance is that the driver can choose to play a more passive driving role and rely on the technology instead of staying alert. In itself, this issue poses its own pertinent safety questions.