JLR joins autonomous race, tests driverless car on UK road

The UK's biggest car manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover, owned by India's Tata Motors, has been testing driverless cars on public roads.

The trials have been underway for several weeks on a half-mile route in Coventry city centre, close to the company's headquarters.

The tests are part of the £20-million UK Autodrive project which is a government-backed competition to trial autonomous vehicle technology.

The vehicles rely on sensors to detect traffic, pedestrians and signals but have a human on board to react to emergencies.

"Testing this self-driving project on public roads is so exciting, as the complexity of the environment allows us to find robust ways to increase road safety in the future. By using inputs from multiple sensors, and finding intelligent ways to process this data, we are gaining accurate technical insight to pioneer the automotive application of these technologies," said Nick Rogers, executive director of product engineering at Jaguar Land Rover.

In June, Tony Harper, director of engineering research at the company said, "The automotive landscape is changing faster today than ever before. As a technology company, our innovation is continuous and our cars of the future will become more capable, cleaner, more connected, more desirable and smarter. Our Autonomous Urban Drive research is Jaguar Land Rover's next step in our development of both fully and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies."

With the launch of the trials, Coventry joins 12 other cities which are carrying out self-driving vehicle tests on public roads globally.

In Arizona, Google's Waymo has already launched driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The driverless vehicles previously had human drivers and offered free rides to residents; now there will be no driver. However, one of Waymo's staff will be present in the vehicle. (See: Google affiliate Waymo to put first fully driver-less cars on road ).

JLR hopes its trials will help it to understand how self-driving vehicles interact with other road users and how to replicate human behaviour while driving.

The company, as well as Ford Motor Co, both part of the Autodrive project, are also looking at systems which will allow cars to communicate with each other. This means if one vehicle stops suddenly, its computers will alert the car behind.

Still, while experts agree that fully autonomous cars are the future, they may be further away than many people think.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have been testing people in simulators and on test tracks for years. They've been trying to find out how good people are at taking back control when the computer goes wrong. Their findings are sobering, as a BBC correspondent points out.

"In simulated emergencies, up to a third of drivers of automated vehicles did not recover the situation, whereas almost all drivers of manual vehicles in the same situation were able to do so. In addition, research showed that drivers of automated vehicles took, on average, six times longer to respond to emergency braking of other vehicles compared to manual drivers," they said.

An automated and electric vehicles bill is currently being debated in the UK parliament to set out how new technologies will operate in Britain. Major carmakers are seeking to head off competition not just from each other but also from technology firms such as Alphabet's Waymo.