Jaguar Land Rover Technology Showcase Introduction
Every year Jaguar Land Rover very kindly invites a load of journalists up to its headquarters in Gaydon to demonstrate some futuristic technologies its engineers are working on.
The place is extremely secretive, we were told to leave our cameras at home, and had to put our smartphones in little plastic bags.
The facility is where JLR tests out new ideas and vehicles (we saw several prototype vehicles, and closed doors, behind which we like to imagine James Bond Q-style labs with ejector seats and missile launchers being tested).
The focus this year was vehicle-to-vehicle communication, a technology which is sure to take off soon due to its obvious safety benefits.
We've also included the tech from last year's showcase, you'll find them on page 10, the highlight that year being an iPhone-controlled Range Rover Sport.
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1. Connected Convoy on Road
If you’ve driven a decent new car in the last year or so, chances are you’ve tried out Adaptive Cruise Control. This is where your car stays a set distance from the car in front using a radar to judge the distance.
We think this is great, and it’s always a bit of a blow switching to a car without it, but Adaptive Cruise Control does have its limitations. It can be pretty slow to react to the car in front, causing a slinky-style convoy.
The next generation of this is cooperative adaptive cruise control (C-ACC).
This is where cars talk to each other directly via a wireless dedicated short range communication (DSRC) signal. This allows cars to react in milliseconds to any changes in speed made by the car in front.
We tried it around the test track at Gaydon and it worked flawlessly - maintaining the stopping distance in between cars.
In the future, if all cars came equipped with this technology it would enable a more advanced convoy of cars on motorway journeys.
Ultimately, this would reduce phantom traffic jams, increase road capacity (as you’d be able to fit more cars in a smaller space), and reduce accidents.
This sort of convoy would also bring aerodynamic benefits by reducing drag and improving fuel consumption. Of course, this only makes sense if it works with every car on the road, not just those made by Jaguar Land Rover. So JLR is working with a consortium to ensure a standard communication protocol is adopted by the whole industry.
2. Connected Convoy Off Road
Of course, vehicle-to-vehicle communication isn’t limited to on-road use, Jaguar Land Rover thinks it can be used for off-roading convoys as well.
We experienced two Range Rover Sports using DSRC to create an off-road connected convoy. The lead vehicle (usually the most experienced) could share information about the terrain, GPS location, vehicle settings (including ride height, all-terrain progress control, and terrain response mode).
As the lead vehicle logs this information it instantly gets sent to the following vehicles, allowing them to adjust their setup when they get to the same point.
In the future, the following vehicles would use this information to automatically adjust their settings.
3. Over the Horizon Warnings
Another vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication technology. Are you starting to see a theme yet?
Over the Horizon warnings are part of JLR’s UK Connected Intelligent Transport research.
This will use connected technologies to warn you of potential hazards before they even come into view.
For example, as we were speeding around the Gaydon testing track, a notification popped up to alert us to a car stopped in the road after a blind bend. This gave us plenty of time to slow down and avoid an accident.
Similarly, the technology can be embedded into road signs, overhead gantries, and traffic lights - displaying potentially missed messages on your car’s dash.
JLR researchers are currently testing four different technologies including, LTE 5G, Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), LTE-V which combines the best of DSRC and LTE, and existing open WiFi networks.
This could also work with emergency vehicles - you receive a notification on your dash that a police car is approaching before you see or hear the siren.
4. Overhead Clearance Assist
Hopefully you’ve never experienced the tragedy of scraping your car’s roof along a height restriction barrier, but to ensure no one has to endure that again JLR is developing Overhead Clearance Assist.
Simply tell the system how high your vehicle is, then it’ll use stereo Bosch cameras to determine if there is sufficient overhead clearance between the vehicle and obstructions.
These obstructions can be car park entrance barriers or overhanging branches. This will be particularly useful for cars with bicycles or rooftop boxes fitted.
If the system determines your car won’t make it, a message will appear on the touchscreen telling you to STOP.
5. Safe Pull Away
Using the same Bosch stereo camera system as the Overhead Clearance Assist, this feature stops you from crashing into the vehicle in front of you.
If an object is detected in front of you, it’ll automatically apply the brakes and provide an audible warning.
Especially useful in traffic jams and entering roundabouts or junctions.
6. Road Work Assist
Apparently, people don’t like driving in roadworks - this technology is for you!
Road Work Assist uses the Bosch stereo camera system to generate a 3D map of the road ahead. It will then stop you from driving into barriers or cones by applying a small amount of steering assistance to keep the car in the centre of the lane.
7. Surface ID
Surface ID was an incredibly early prototype - we don’t think it’ll look like this when in production guise.
It uses two ultrasonic sensors to scan the terrain five metres ahead of the car. Different surfaces reflect signals in different ways, but reliably enough for JLR to create a database of surface data by mapping a range of sand, gravel and snow.
The Surface ID system can then switch to the optimum Terrain Response settings for the surface ahead helping to maintain momentum.
8. Terrain-based Speed Adaption
Terrain-based Speed Adaptation is a development of JLR’s All Terrain Progress Control (ATPC).
Currently with ATPC turned on the driver sets his desired speed on the steering wheel and the car will accelerate and cruise at that speed no matter what surface it’s on. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly useful on low-friction surfaces like mud or ice.
Terrain-based Speed Adaptation takes this to the next level by sensing the environment in front of the vehicle and automatically changing its speed to a safe level.
So, for example, if there was a ford crossing, it would slow down and then accelerate once clear. This minimises the stress and strain on the drivers, reducing fatigue.
9. Control your vehicle from an iPhone (2015)
The highlight of our 2015 tour was the remote controlled Range Rover Sport -- which we both controlled and rode.
Controlling the two-tonne RC car is surprisingly easy (and unsurprisingly scary), the well-designed iPhone app was simple -- and felt just like a toy that you might buy for Christmas.
You might wonder what's the point of all this?
Land Rover was able to provide several potential uses -- first of all, it's great for people who drive off-road and need to check ground clearance.
Another scenario is getting out of the car to open a gate, guide it remotely through, then close the gate. Finally reversing to connect a caravan or trailer.
Sure they might be niche, but the whole concept is amazing -- proper James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies stuff.
The phone connects with Bluetooth right now (but Wi-Fi in the future), with a top speed of 4mph and safety systems which apply brakes if the connection is lost.
10. Let your car do all the tricky bits (2015)
During a short talk Doctor Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology at JLR, clearly stated they are not working towards a fully autonomous vehicle to compete with the likes of Google and others.
Jaguar Land Rover believe people enjoy driving, and their cars will have certain levels of autonomy to aid with the boring parts, such as motorway cruising, and maneuvers.
We sat in a Range Rover Sport, tapped a 'Multi Point turn' button on an iPad (although the future will be built into the infotainment system), and relaxed while the car performed a three point turn.
What's really impressive is that this model was from their current fleet with no additional hardware -- all of the automation came from a software update.
It only makes use of parking cameras and electric steering -- theoretically, this means any current Rangies could receive these new features.
11. Built in sensors will read your body (2015)
This one's another interesting project -- Jaguar Land Rover was showing off technology from their Human Machine Interface division. This looks at how the squishy organic stuff, i.e. us, interacts with the car.
We sat in a seat that can read your heart rate, breathing rate, and tell you whether you're calm or stressed (although worryingly, according to the seat I was dead).
This system could then talk to other systems, and, for example, increase the gap between the car in front if you're stressed and put the seat massagers on. Or if it senses you're tired, then make the cabin colder with air con.
We also tried out a steering wheel that is capable of sensing brainwaves through your hand (which could eventually be used to know if you're paying attention to the road).
It's obviously very early days for this technology, and still very much in the research stage.
12. Never hit a pothole again (2015)
This innovation is particularly useful for British roads -- pot hole sensors.
The sensors, at the moment, simply feel when you've driven over a pothole, logs it on a map, and attempts to adjust the suspension to reduce damage.
But in the future, the engineers see cars that could either spot a pothole and pre-emptively adjust the suspension, or even log the dodgy road surface and notify the council -- so they can come and fix it.
The pothole data could also be uploaded into the cloud -- allowing other vehicles to access it and avoid the problem as well.
JLR thinks this could potentially save motorists billions in vehicle damage repair and accidents.
13. Haptic feedback (2015)
Not a sexy picture -- we know, but this is a really neat solution to one of our biggest driving annoyances -- too many beeps.
We currently get inundated with sound notifications for speed limits warnings, speed camera warnings, collision detection, and lane departure warnings.
There are so many beeps and bells that you start to filter out the noise and pay less attention to them.
JLR is developing a haptic accelerator pedal, which can vibrate and pulse to notify you (instead of a beep).
It feels really natural, and quite characterful, almost as if the car is trying to talk to you -- like Herbie, or Brum.
14. Designed in virtual reality (2015)
The company makes extensive use of virtual reality in the design stage of their cars, and it's been around in the automotive industry a lot longer than it's been in the consumer tech and gaming industry.
LJR has been using VR for at least 10 years to create production workstations (allowing engineers to design the perfect workplace for people of all sizes).
For example, it's possible to see if a part can be easily installed, without needing to stretch or bend which could be uncomfortable for the production line employee.
Of course, VR is also used in the design of vehicles, and now engineers and designers can sit in virtual models before needing to pick up tools.
This is a massive cost-cutting platform for the company and means as many final details can be nailed down before spending money on tools and materials.
JRL is always looking at what's next on the VR horizon, currently they use an Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2 -- but they plan on getting six of the best headsets (including Vive) in for a group test soon.
15. Get a smarter infotainment system (2015)
Taking your eyes off the road, even for a couple of seconds, is dangerous -- so Jaguar Land Rover are developing solutions to reduce this as much as possible.
This includes tech similar to Leap Motion, which predicts where you're going to point on a touch screen -- reducing eyes off road time by 22-percent.
And really innovative invisible buttons, which make use of ultrasonic sound to give haptic feedback as to where your hand is. This was quite spectacular -- and felt like little jets of air rather than sound waves.
16. Your car will learn your habits (2015)
The company is developing a learning system, which can record your everyday life and automates it to make things easier.
The example we used was a journey to and from work. Jump in the car in the morning and pop the heating and Radio 2 on. Heading home from a tough day at work? Bluetooth smartphone connection and massaging seat please.
If you do this regularly enough (it takes three weeks to start predicting) the car will automatically adjust these setting for you, based on GPS location, and who many people are in the car.
If you suddenly gain a perchant for Radio Three, the car will adapt to learn that as well.
Pretty nifty right?
17. The mystery smartwatch (2015)
This wasn't an official demonstration, but while being shown through some of the tech I noticed an employee was wearing a smartwatch -- one I didn't recognise.
When I asked about it, I was told the watch was an internal one, for development purposes. I then found some images in the press release.
Are JLR developing a smartwatch which could be used as a key? Or some other interesting use? Only time will tell...
But it looked very nice, so I hope it does see the light of day.