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Jaguar Land Rover showcases tech projects

Brainwave monitoring, pothole detection among ambitious JLR tech developments

19 Jun 2015

JAGUAR Land Rover has been busy developing new technologies of late, including the 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.

The Indian-owned British company’s research into whether cars can accurately identify a driver that is daydreaming, distracted or sleepy by monitoring brainwaves is looking at methods used by NASA and the United States bobsleigh team to measure brainwaves without having to place inconvenient equipment on their head.

Instead, in ongoing user trials involving leading neuroscientists, brainwaves are detected via sensors in a car’s steering wheel, but this requires software to amplify brain signals and filter out background interference.

JLR hopes that by continually monitoring which type of brainwave is dominant, a vehicle’s on-board computer will be able to assess 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 another method of contacting the driver.

In addition to brain activity, a medical-grade sensor embedded in the seat of a Jaguar XJ test vehicle can detect the driver’s heart beat and breathing as part of technology that could help autonomous vehicles decide if the driver is in a fit state to take the controls.

It could also alert the vehicle if a sudden and serious illness is about to incapacitate the driver, or activating stress-reducing settings to mood lighting, audio and climate control systems if it detects the driver is worked up.

In 2011 Ford announced it was working on a health-monitoring seat that could detect heart attacks but the growth in popularity and availability of inexpensive and more accurate wearable technology reportedly led it to abandon the project earlier this year.

JLR 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 in order to predict which buttons they are likely to press.

Ultrasonics could create tap or tingling sensations on the driver’s finger in mid-air to indicate they have made a selection without them having touched any surface or seeking confirmation by looking at the display.

Sensations and varying levels of resistance could also be delivered through the accelerator pedal, for example to alert the driver if they are about to bump the car in front while crawling forwards in a traffic jam or gently discourage them from exceeding the speed limit.

A Range Rover Evoque test vehicle is being fitted with road surface sensors and stereo cameras to enable it to predict and avoid potholes, which JLR says could help save motorists billions in punctures, vehicle damage and accidents each year.

Working with adaptive suspension systems, the technology can prepare the vehicle for severe potholes, broken manholes and missing drain covers to improve passenger comfort and safety.

When combined with connected car and cloud technology, a database of potholes – with photos and GPS coordinates – could be mapped to inform road maintenance authorities and alert other vehicles.

JLR global connected car director Mike Bell said the road-sensing hazard assessment technology “is a key building block on our journey to the autonomous car”.

“In the future, we are looking to develop systems that could automatically guide a car around potholes without the car leaving its lane and causing a danger to other drivers. If the pothole hazard was significant enough, safety systems could slow or even stop the car to minimise the impact. This could all help make future autonomous driving a safe and enjoyable reality.”

The research team is working with Coventry City Council in the United Kingdom to “understand how road profile information could be shared with road authorities, and exactly what data would be most useful for their roads maintenance teams to identify and prioritise repairs”.

Challenging terrain is best tackled with a passenger who can jump out of the vehicle to assess obstacles at ground level and provide a second pair of eyes for the driver, but technology under development by JLR could give drivers more confidence to go it alone.

Turning a car into a smartphone-controlled drone is set to move from the set of a James Bond movie to reality – although JLR’s prototype is restricted to speeds of 6.5km/h and below and the driver must remain within 10 metres of the vehicle or it will stop.

In addition to off-roading, the system could be used to manoeuvre some of JLR’s larger-than-life products out of tight parking spaces, while future applications include autonomous valet parking, a possibility demonstrated by prototypes from the likes of Audi, Ford and Honda in recent years.

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.

Sensors calculate the available space and the presence of obstacles to avoid things such as pedestrians and other vehicles, then takes over gear selection, steering braking and acceleration until the manoeuvre is completed.

The next step for researchers is to enable the system to scan its surroundings in order to inform the driver whether performing a manoeuvre is safe and requesting confirmation before moving itself forward until its path is blocked and turning itself round.

JLR research and technology director Wolfgang Epple explained that these technologies are not just about developing autonomous cars but reducing stress while improving driving enjoyment and safety.

“A remote control car, or a vehicle that can autonomously turn in the road, demonstrates how we could use these new technologies to reduce the tedious parts of driving and improve road safety,” he said.

“The same sensors and systems that will help an autonomous car make the right decisions, will assist the driver and enhance the experience to help prevent accidents. Autonomous car technologies will not take away the fun of driving."

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