The British Government has just committed almost $30 million to develop various facets of autonomous car tech, a chunk of which Bosch and Jaguar Land Rover are getting to develop self-driving cars that actually “drive like humans, not robots.”
The total scope of research will be spread out across eight projects, of which “MOVE-UK” is focused on what you could call driving lessons for autonomous cars.
Over the next three years, employees of the London Borough of Greenwich will drive around in a fleet of Jaguars and Land Rovers that be constantly collecting data. The idea is “to establish how a range of different drivers react to real-world driving situations, including heavy traffic, busy junctions, road works and bad weather,” Jaguar Land Rover stated in a press release.
Autonomous cars can already read the speed limit and stop before hitting an obstacle, but really getting a car through crowded roads requires a more nuanced understanding of driving.
Do you floor it or stop early at a yellow light? Pass somebody going 5 MPH under the limit or relax and back off? Whatever these town employees do, their cars will be watching. And learning. How long would it take you to relax and drive “normally” if you knew your driving behavior was writing the algorithms for your entire country’s self-driving cars? Seems like a lot of pressure!
And as you may have guessed, insurance companies are going to be looking at this information as well as they stumble with the issue of how and who to hold responsible when a self-driven car makes a mistake.
Jaguar Land Rover’s Director of Research and Technology Dr Wolfgang Epple astutely explained that the only way to sell autonomous cars is to make sure they work.
“To successfully introduce autonomous cars, we actually need to focus more on the driver than ever before. Understanding how drivers react to a range of very dynamic and random situations in the real world is essential if we want drivers to embrace autonomous cars in the future.”
“Customers are much more likely to accept highly-automated and fully autonomous vehicles if the car reacts in the same way as the driver. By understanding and measuring positive driving behaviors we can ensure that an autonomous Jaguar or Land Rover of the future will not simply perform a robotic function.”
Epple added that, ideally, Jaguar Land Rover vehicles would have the ability to be driven manually or automatically at the preference of whoever’s in the car.
Jaguar Land Rover will also be experimenting with another critical aspect of automotive autonomy is connectivity; a network through which cars can communicate with each other to pass warnings about hazards and traffic.
Think of it as a next-level adaptive cruise control. A car today can monitoring the vehicle ahead of it so it can maintain a safe following distance, but the more vehicles that could be strung together like that (the industry term is “platooning”) the smoother highway traffic could hypothetically be.
We’ll keep you posted as we hear updates on these initiatives. I hope there’s at least one hilarious unintended consequence, like one test-driver who teaches their car to pull pranks like going through drive-thrus backwards or moving around in parking lots while their owner is shopping.
What a time to be alive!
Image via Land Rover