Jaguar Land Rover has announced that it is testing a new system that would allow future autonomous cars to drive themselves over any surface or terrain.
Dubbed the Autonomous All-Terrain Driving Research project, the initiative aims to ensure that self-driving cars of the future are able to go anywhere in the world, rather than just on smooth motorway roads.
"Our all-terrain autonomy research isn't just about the car driving itself on a motorway or in extreme off-road situations. It's about helping both the driven and autonomous car make their way safely through any terrain or driving situation," Tony Harper, head of research, Jaguar Land Rover, said on the news of the announcement. "We don't want to limit future highly automated and fully autonomous technologies to Tarmac."
JLR says that the company's researchers are developing next-generation sensing technologies that will be the "eyes of the future autonomous car".
In a world-first off-road demonstration, witnessed by Pocket-lint, Jaguar Land Rover has connected two Range Rover Sport together using something the company is referring to as DSRC (dedicated short range communications) technology to create an off-road connected convoy that effectively means the first car relays terrain information to other cars in the convoy.
This wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communications system shares information including vehicle location, wheel-slip, changes to suspension height and wheel articulation, as well as all-terrain progress control (ATPC) and terrain response settings instantly between the two vehicles.
TERRAIN-BASED SPEED ADAPTION
This research project gives the vehicle the ability to sense the path in front and automatically regulate its speed to suit the conditions. This reduces driver workload and increases ride comfort.
The system is intelligent enough to function pre-emptively and reactively: different features in the terrain are mapped against different target speeds, but speed is also managed according to the actual response of the vehicle and the suspension. TBSA can function on all surfaces but is particularly relevant off-road.
This world-first technology determines what type of surface the vehicle is about to drive on and then recommends the most appropriate Terrain Response setting for those conditions.
In the future, Terrain Response settings could be changed automatically before any change in surface, optimising traction and delivering even greater capability and driver control - even on the most challenging surfaces such as sand and wet grass.
OFF-ROAD CONNECTED CONVOY
Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology enables all vehicles in an off-road convoy to share information, which will be a key element in successful all-terrain autonomous driving in future. If the lead vehicle stops, for example, or if its wheels slip driving over a difficult boulder, this information is transmitted live to all of the other vehicles - even if they're out of sight.
According to the SUV maker, terrain is monitored by a combination of data from on-board cameras, ultrasonic, radar and lidar sensors to give the car a 360-degree view of the world around it.
JLR says that the sensors are so advanced that the car could determine surface characteristics, down to the width of a tyre, even in rain and falling snow, to plan its route.
Furthermore ultrasonic sensors placed in the car will be able to identify surface conditions by scanning up to 5 metres ahead of the car, so terrain response settings could be automatically changed before the car drives from Tarmac to snow, or from grass to sand.
While what's on the ground makes a difference, JRL also says it understands that overhanging branches or objects like a car park overhead barrier would also need to be identified to make sure the route is clear. To that end Jaguar Land Rover says an Overhead Clearance Assist technology would use stereo camera technology to scan ahead for overhead obstructions. The driver programs the system with the vehicle's height, which can include roof boxes or bicycles, and the car will warn the driver with a simple message in the infotainment touchscreen if there is insufficient clearance.
Sensors could also be used to scan the roughness of the road or track ahead and adjust vehicle speed.