"We don't want to limit highly automated and fully autonomous technologies to tarmac," said Tony Harper, JLR's head of research. "When the driver turns off the road, we want this support and assistance to continue."
JLR officials wouldn't say how much the company is investing in its autonomous and connected-car research, but they acknowledged it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- a major commitment for an automaker that expects global sales this year of just over 500,000 vehicles.
JLR has been on a hiring spree and now has 9,000 engineers working at its Gaydon facility, and it has invested in InMotion, a startup that will provide an array of mobility services.
Nearly all of the expanded capabilities demonstrated in the fleet of specially built Range Rover and Jaguar F-Pace utility vehicles and XF and XE sedans make use of existing sensor and camera hardware, but software expands the amount of data collected from the environment around the vehicles. The data are used to power the various applications.
Here's a look at some of the technologies under development at JLR and how they work.
- Surface identification: JLR believes the key to autonomous off-road driving is the vehicle's ability to identify the terrain it is about to drive over. Sensors in the front fascia scan the surface 16 feet ahead and can recognize mud, soft sand, grass, gravel and snow. The surface ID data are used to ensure the vehicle maintains maximum traction.
- Terrain-based speed control: A stereo camera -- a camera with two lenses -- mounted in front of the rearview camera on the windshield reads the area ahead of the vehicle and identifies features such as ditches, hills and surface smoothness. Data from the suspension, steering, restraint system and other sensors also are used to help calculate and adjust speed.
- Off-road connected convoy: JLR is testing car-to-car communication off-road using a short-range communications system to link vehicles. The lead vehicle sends real-time terrain, location and suspension performance data to those following. Data are used to help drivers tackle difficult terrain.