Will your next Range Rover drive itself over rocks?

Jaguar Land Rover is no stranger to investing in futuristic technologies in recent years. You’ll likely recall Land Rover’s Transparent Bonnet and remote control operation. Well the automaker is now working to bring autonomous driving off the beaten path.

These self-driving technologies are designed to help drivers navigate terrain in which they might feel uncomfortable traversing, with the ultimate goal of having the vehicle travel on any type of terrain under autonomous control – even if that includes a rocky riverbed.

“Our all-terrain autonomy research isn’t just about the car driving itself on a motorway or in extreme off-road situations,” says JLR’s head of research, Tony Harper. “It’s about helping both the driven and autonomous car make their way safely through any terrain or driving situation.”

JLR accomplishes this with 3D sensing that combines cameras, ultrasonic sensors, radar, and LIDAR sensors. This gives the vehicle’s computer a 360-degree view of the surrounding terrain. The system is said to be so sensitive that it can determine surface characteristics down to the width of a tire, regardless of rain or snow.

The computer then uses this view to select the proper settings for the Terrain Response system, which includes ride height on air suspension-equipped vehicles, 4WD engagement, ABS settings, and Hill Decent control, among other settings.

What’s more, JLR is working on vehicle-to-vehicle communications in conjunction with this autonomous driving system. The V2V network would allow following vehicles in a convoy to preemptively adapt to upcoming road conditions well in advance. The full explanation of the system is found in the press release below.

Continue reading for more information

Why It Matters

Jaguar Land Rover Demonstrates All-Terrain Self-Driving Research
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Jaguar Land Rover undoubtedly see a future in autonomous vehicles capable of traversing nearly any terrain. It’s a groundbreaking idea – far more adventurous than typical road-based autonomous systems under development by other automakers. It’ll be interesting to see when (or if) JLR accomplishes its goal.

And why JLR might look foolish for developing an autonomous system for off-road applications, it makes great sense to have a vehicle be able to drive itself without the aid of perfectly painted markings on a well-paved road. Think about all the tight one-lane roads in Europe or the dirt roads in rural areas in Africa. This system will in theory work in far more places than a typical autonomous system. For that, the rest of the industry will be trailing behind.

Mark McNabb
Mark McNabb was a contributor at TopSpeed from 2013 to 2018. Growing up, Mark always had a mind for tinkering on random items throughout his home and dad’s garage, including a 1953 Ford Mainline and 1971 Corvette Stingray.  Read More
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Press Release

Jaguar Land Rover has demonstrated a range of innovative research technologies that would allow a future autonomous car to drive itself over any surface or terrain.

Jaguar Land Rover Demonstrates All-Terrain Self-Driving Research
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Jaguar Land Rover’s multi-million pound Autonomous all-terrain driving research project aims to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real life, on- and off-road driving environments and weather conditions.

Tony Harper, Head of Research, Jaguar Land Rover, said: “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.

“We don’t want to limit future highly automated and fully autonomous technologies to tarmac. When the driver turns off the road, we want this support and assistance to continue. In the future, if you enjoy the benefits of autonomous lane keeping on a motorway at the start of your journey, we want to ensure you can use this all the way to your destination, even if this is via a rough track or gravel road.

“So whether it’s a road under construction with cones and a contraflow, a snow-covered road in the mountains or a muddy forest track, this advanced capability would be available to both the driver AND the autonomous car, with the driver able to let the car take control if they were unsure how best to tackle an obstacle or hazard ahead. We are already world-leaders in all-terrain technologies: these research projects will extend that lead still further.”

To enable this level of autonomous all-terrain capability, Jaguar Land Rover’s researchers are developing next-generation sensing technologies that will be the eyes of the future autonomous car. Because the sensors are always active and can see better than the driver, this advanced sensing will ultimately give a vehicle the high levels of artificial intelligence required for the car to think for itself and plan the route it should take, on any surface.

SURFACE IDENTIFICATION AND 3D PATH SENSING research combines camera, ultrasonic, radar and LIDAR sensors to give the car a 360 degree view of the world around it, with sensors 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.

Tony Harper said: “The key enabler for autonomous driving on any terrain is to give the car the ability to sense and predict the 3D path it is going to drive through. This means being able to scan and analyse both the surface to be driven on, as well as any hazards above and to the sides of the path ahead. This might include car park barriers, tree roots and boulders or overhanging branches, as well as the materials and topography to be driven on.”

Ultrasonic sensors can identify surface conditions by scanning up to five 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. This will optimise all-terrain performance, without loss of momentum or control.

Jaguar Land Rover Demonstrates All-Terrain Self-Driving Research
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To complete the 3D path, branches overhanging a track, or a car park overhead barrier would also need to be identified to determine if the route ahead is clear. Overhead Clearance Assist uses stereo camera technology to scan ahead for overhead obstructions. The driver programmes 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. TERRAIN-BASED SPEED ADAPTION (TBSA) uses cameras to sense bumpy terrain including uneven and undulating surfaces and washboard roads, potholes and even standing water. It is then intelligent enough to predict the potential impact of these surfaces on the car’s ride and automatically adjust speed to keep passengers comfortable.

Another key element of successful all-terrain autonomous driving is the ability for vehicles to communicate with each other, especially if they are out of sight around a bend or on the other side of an off-road obstacle.

In a world-first off-road demonstration, Jaguar Land Rover has connected two Range Rover Sports together using innovative DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications) technology to create an Off-Road Connected Convoy. This wireless vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) 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.

Tony Harper said: “This V2V communications system can seamlessly link a convoy of vehicles in any off-road environment. If a vehicle has stopped, other vehicles in the convoy will be alerted – if the wheels of drop into a hole, or perhaps slip on a difficult boulder, this information is transmitted to all of the other vehicles. In the future, a convoy of autonomous vehicles would use this information to automatically adjust their settings or even change their route to help them tackle the obstacle.

“Or for the ultimate safari experience, cars following in convoy would be told by the lead car where to slow down and stop for their passengers to take the best photographs.”

Jaguar Land Rover employs 9,000 engineers and technologists based at two UK product development centres at Gaydon and Whitley, and at an Advanced Research Centre at the University of Warwick.
Over the past five years, Jaguar Land Rover has doubled sales and employment, more than tripled turnover and invested more than £12 billion in new product creation and capital expenditure.
Jaguar Land Rover produced more than 500,000 cars and commercial vehicles in 2015 at its three vehicle manufacturing plants in Solihull, Birmingham and Liverpool.

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