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Tokyo show: JLR to build ‘first’ autonomous off-roader

Herding cats: JLR’s CEO Ralf Speth says the company’s self-driving technology is so flexible that the systems could be fitted to any car in its range of SUVs.

Production version of Jaguar Land Rover’s driverless SUV on the horizon

Land Rover logo30 Oct 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER in TOKYO

JAGUAR Land Rover has taken a step further in its development of autonomous vehicles, with JLR chief executive Ralf Speth confirming to GoAuto this week that it was working on a self-driving SUV and that it would be the first car-maker to offer a production vehicle that can drive itself off-road.

The Indian-owned British car-maker recently showcased a host of experimental technologies, including projects that explore self-driving technology. However, the technology is now so far down the development path that a marketable version is in sight.

Speaking at the Japanese reveal of Jaguar’s first SUV – the F-Pace – at the Tokyo motor show, Mr Speth said the current technology was already well advanced and “not a big step” to bring it market.

“It’s autonomous driving and it’s really great,” he said. “You can already drive it with an iPhone. We tested it and in principle that’s not a big step so it’s just a question of whether the demand is given then we can use it quite quickly.”

The company’s range of large luxury SUVs already incorporate a variety of safety technology including autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control and perimeter monitoring cameras for manoeuvring on and off road, and Mr Speth explained that the transition from driver assistance into full autonomy was far simpler than many realise.

“It’s just software and the electronic architecture is so similar you can just option it,” he said.

Such is the simplicity of updating the software that Mr Speth said the technology would ultimately be available “for all the SUV vehicles in principle because it’s the same technology” rather than just one specifically engineered model.

As virtually all global car manufacturers – and many others including parts giants and technology companies – working in this field are reporting, the main barriers to this fast-growing field are infrastructure and legislation rather than the core technology and the ability of the various evaluation vehicles.

While the benefits of on-road driverless vehicles are widely known, off-road autonomy is less frequently discussed, but Mr Speth explained a driverless all-terrain vehicle has just as many advantages.

‘Regular’ road-going vehicles allow occupants to perform tasks other than driving, but the JLR solution allows passengers to leave the vehicle while it negotiates tricky obstacles.

“Off road it is important because you cannot always sit in the car because from a driving position, despite all the cameras in the car already, from time to time if it is critical you want to step out and just see how the vehicle behaves, so it’s good to have this kind of device,” he said.

Mr Speth was unable to indicate when the systems would become available for its range of off-roaders but the Range Rover and freshly revealed Jaguar F-pace company flagships are the obvious candidates to debut the technology.

In time, the technology will naturally cascade down to other vehicles such as the Discovery Sport and even the forthcoming Defender replacement.

On the latter, Mr Speth was unable to predict when the iconic go-anywhere vehicle’s successor would arrive, but advised buying an example of the current Defender as the final run was selling fast.

In addition to self-driving and remote control systems, the company has also demonstrated a wide range of other safety and assistance systems, including the monitoring of driver health and alertness, predictive touchscreens and vibrating pedals, and the detection, prediction and reporting of potholes.

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