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by Patrick Cruywagen, 12th July 2016

Self-driving Land Rovers are closer than we think as Jaguar Land Rover announces the development of autonomous all-terrain driving.

Land Rover have just demonstrated a series of innovative research technologies that will allow a future autonomous car to drive itself over any surface including mud, rocks, water and gravel. JLR’s multi-million pound Autonomous All-Terrain Driving research project aims to make the self-driving Land Rover viable in all conditions, terrain and weather.

How will they achieve this autonomous all-terrain capability? Their researchers are currently developing futuristic sensing technologies that will work as they eyes of Land Rovers. As these sensors are always active they can most definitely see better than the average human being. These sensing technologies will give Land Rovers massive amounts of artificial intelligence so that they can plan the most appropriate route after processing the intelligence. 

Tony Harper, Head of Research, Jaguar Land Rover, explains the technologies. “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. 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.”

One of the first of these technologies is Surface Identification and 3D Path Sensing. It combines camera, ultrasonic, radar and LIDAR sensors to give the Land Rover a 360 degree view of the world around it. The sensors are so advanced that they can determine surface characteristics as wide as your tyre in all weather conditions. This enables them to plan a suitable route.Tony Harper explains its importance. “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.”

So your Land Rover will be able to identify big rocks in the track and overhanging tree branches above and plan your route accordingly. These Ultrasonic sensors can identify surface conditions up to five metres ahead of your Land Rover so there is enough time for your Terrain Response settings to automatically change to something more appropriate. So you don't have to worry about picking the correct Terrain Response setting because if you don’t your Land Rover will automatically pick something more appropriate. Also you won’t have to stop when changing terrain types because your Land Rover will know about it before it happens. Incredible stuff really.  

Another useful technology is the Overhead Clearance Assist, it uses cameras to scan ahead for any potential overhead obstructions. If you have packed things onto your roof rack such as a canoe then you will have to programme this into the system, then if your Land Rover is too high for certain overhead obstacles a warning message will come up on the infotainment system.

We have all hit a pothole or water crossing with too much speed. This normally leads to some cursing from the passengers. The Terrain-based Speed Adaption system will prevent this from ever happening again. It uses cameras to identify road hazards such as potholes and standing water. It then decides how this will impact on the Land Rover’s ride and then makes the necessary adjustments to keep passengers comfy.

The final impressive technology which will greatly assist with autonomous all-terrain driving is the ability of Land Rovers in a convoy to communicate with one another even if out of sight or around the corner. They demonstrated this Off-Road Connected Convoy by connecting two Range Rover Sports together using innovative DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications). This wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communications system means that the vehicle at the back of the convoy knows exactly what is happening to the vehicle at the front of the convoy. This includes the important bits of info such as  vehicle location, wheel-slip, changes to suspension height and wheel articulation, as well as Terrain Response settings. So the vehicle at the back knows what is coming and makes the necessary adjustments.

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