We see it in science fiction movies of the future: cars where humans no longer have to control the steering wheel or the accelerator and brake pedals while travelling. Some elements of that science fiction are already available today, like cruise control which varies speeds to maintain a safe gap and even brings the car to a standstill if the vehicle in front has stopped. But more is to come and someday, humans won’t have to be in control at all (in which case it won’t be ‘driving’ anymore, will it?).

Progress towards cars that can drive by themselves under the control of a computer – known as autonomous cars – is proceeding rapidly and prototypes are now being tested on public roads in some places. Safety is a crucial aspect which must be ensured before complete autonomy is allowed and that may take some time as there are other elements to be resolved.

While most of the prototypes are being tested on roads, Jaguar Land Rover is beginning to explore the possibilities of autonomous off-road driving as well. ‘CORTEX’ is the name of the project which is developing technology to give self-driving cars off-road capabilities and it has the involvement of the University of Birmingham, with its world leading research in radar and sensing for autonomous platforms and Myrtle AI, machine learning experts.

Project CORTEX will develop the technology through algorithm development, sensor optimisation and physical testing on off-road tracks in the UK. The project was announced as part of Innovate UK’s third round of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Funding in March 2018.

The aim is to make autonomous vehicles fully capable in any weather condition – dirt, rain, ice, snow or fog. As part of the project, a ‘5D’ technique combining acoustic, video, radar, light detection and distance sensing (LiDAR) data live in real-time is being engineered.

Access to this combined data improves the awareness of the environment the car is in. Machine-learning enables the self-driving car to behave in an increasingly sophisticated way, allowing it to handle any weather condition on any terrain.

The 30-month CORTEX project supports Jaguar Land Rover’s development of fully and semi-automated vehicle technologies, offering customers a choice of the level of automation, while maintaining an enjoyable and safe driving experience. This project forms part of the company’s vision to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on and off-road driving environments and weather.

“It’s important that we develop our self-driving vehicles with the same capability and performance customers expect from all Jaguars and Land Rovers. Self-driving is an inevitability for the automotive industry and ensuring that our autonomous offering is the most enjoyable, capable and safe is what drives us to explore the boundaries of innovation. CORTEX gives us the opportunity to work with some fantastic partners whose expertise will help us realise this vision in the near future,” said Chris Holmes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover.

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[Chips Yap]

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