Jaguar Land Rover previews the future ‘but the driver is still everything’

Going Solo

Jaguar Land Rover has set about offering a choice of an engaged or autonomous drive, meaning the car will be able to drive itself if the driver wishes, or offer systems that can be adjusted for a more engaging and involved time behind the wheel.

While all this might seem at first glance more suitable for Hollywood than the school run and not what you want to encounter between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it's all good as we found near Birmingham, England, when the luxury automaker gave ArabWheels an in-depth squiz at the staggering technological prototypes it has on the way.

These include monitoring of driver health and alertness, predictive touchscreens and vibrating pedals, the detection, prediction and reporting of potholes, and remotely driving a vehicle using a smartphone app.

J-LR research and technology director, Wolfgang Epple, says: "Research into technologies like these won't only help us deliver an autonomous car. They will help make real driving safer and more enjoyable. Autonomous car technologies will not take away the fun of driving."

The J-LR boffins research into whether cars can accurately identify a driver who is daydreaming, distracted or sleepy by monitoring brainwaves is looking at methods used by NASA to measure brainwaves without having to place inconvenient - even bizarre - equipment on their head.

Rather, in trials brainwaves are detected via sensors in a car's steering wheel. J-LR hopes that by continually monitoring which type of brainwave is dominant, a vehicle's on-board computer can deduce whether to try re-engaging a driver with alerts such as lights, sounds or steering wheel and pedal vibrations.

By looking out for a subsequent surge of brain activity, the system could tell whether the attempt to reinvigorate the driver has worked - and if not, try some other way.

A medical-grade sensor embedded in the seat of a Jaguar XJ test vehicle can detect the driver's heart beat and breathing. This could help autonomous vehicles work out if a driver is in a fit state to be behind the wheel or alert the vehicle of a sudden illness is about to incapacitate the driver.

We sampled a remote control Range Rover Sport research vehicle that reveals how a driver could handle a vehicle from outside the car via a smartphone. The smartphone app includes control of steering, accelerator and brakes as well as changing from high and low range. This would allow the driver to walk alongside the car, at a maximum speed of 6.5km/h, to maneuver their car out of challenging situations safely, or even to negotiate difficult off-road terrain.

Spinneys regulars could use the smartphone to reverse the car out of a parking space if someone has parked too close for them to open the door, or allow the driver to become their own off-road spotter, to guide the car over off-road obstacles from outside the vehicle.

The driver must remain within 10 meters of the vehicle or it will stop. Still, it's pretty awesome as your scribe found when he got hold off the phone. Autonomous valet parking is a fairly obvious future application. And isn't such an innovation tailor-made for the Middle East where many males' love of their mobile often far outweighs affection for their wife.

J-LR is also working on touchscreen technology that aims to reduce driver distraction and the amount of time their eyes are taken off the road by using cameras to track hand movements to predict which buttons they are likely to press.

Here's a potential helping hand for aficionados of Dubai's Shaikh Zayed Road who have had more than their share of 'moments'. Sensations could be delivered through the accelerator pedal to alert drivers that they're about to bump the car in front in a traffic jam or if they're about to get the speed cameras flashing.

J-LR says a Range Rover Evoque test vehicle is being fitted with road surface sensors and stereo cameras to enable it to predict and avoid potholes, a potential boon in saving motorists serious money in punctures, vehicle damage and accidents each.

The bigger picture is that when combined with connected car and cloud technology, a database of potholes could be mapped to inform road maintenance authorities and alert other vehicles.

A prototype Range Rover Sport can move itself through 180 degrees to get out of dead-end roads or congested car-parks and other low speed scenarios drivers dread.

J-LR's 'Multi-Point Turn' Range Rover Sport is capable of autonomously maneuvering through 180 degrees to turn the car in the road and point the car in the opposite direction. This autonomous vehicle could extricate itself from the likes of dead-end roads or congested car parks, as well as performing the - to many - unpleasant and difficult maneuver, the three-point turn in a busy street or car park.

"This is all the future, but the driver is still everything," J-LR global connected car director, Mike Bell.

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