With recent developments in autonomous driving technology having gotten close to mastering driving on the road, Land Rover has appropriately decided that it’s time to start exploring the next frontier: self-driving off-road technology. With the launch of the $5 million Cortex project this month, they’re looking into developing technology that suits their off-roading customer base.
On-road autonomous technology is somewhat reliant on features that are inherently only part of a paved road: lane markings, road signs, other vehicles, smooth, predictable terrain – all things which are inherently absent off-road. Thus, developing off-road autonomous technology requires taking several large steps back from the years of technological investment already put into the concept.
The idea behind Cortex is to develop “5D” technology that can work in any terrain and any weather. 5D would combine acoustic, video, radar, light detection and distance sensing (LiDAR) data to analyze all aspects of the environment the vehicle is traversing. The goal is to develop both fully-autonomous and semi-autonomous systems.
There are six levels of automation – Levels 0 to 5. The goal of Cortex is to attain the highest levels in an off-road setting – either Level 4’s high automation, which is autonomous capability in specific environments, or Level 5’s full automation, which never requires human input.
Cortex will be a joint project between Jaguar Land Rover; The University of Birmingham (UK), which has a large radar and sensing research program; and machine learning firm Myrtle AI. The project will last 30 months, and a focus will be on retaining the development and production of these systems in the UK.
Land Rover has already made some strides in off-road automation with All Terrain Progress Control in newer models, which is effectively off-road cruise control. ATPC controls speed inputs (both throttle and brake), but still requires the driver to control the steering wheel.
The investment Land Rover is putting into the Cortex project isn’t enormous, but the goal is to engage in the earliest exploration of the idea. Of course, for many of us off-road enthusiasts, figuring out how to handle the terrain with our own knowledge and skillset is part of the fun. However, it might be nice to take your hands off the wheel for a bit on a long, straight dirt road…
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