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Jaguar Land Rover takes self-driving tech off-road

Self-driving cars have traversed streets, highways, and even racetracks, but now Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is taking them off-road. The British carmaker has developed a suite of technologies that it believes will help future autonomous cars perform as well in the mud and dirt as today’s human-piloted Land Rover SUVs.

“We don’t want to limit future highly automated and fully autonomous technologies to tarmac,” Thomas Harper, head of research for Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement. “When the driver turns off the road, we want this support and assistance to continue,”  Researchers at the carmaker are developing new sensors to accomplish that, and software to help vehicles navigate rough terrain.

The sensor complement includes cameras, radar, lidar, and ultrasonic sensors. JLR says these could be combined with the Terrain Response system already available in Land Rover models, automatically adjusting vehicle settings based on what the sensors see. Stereo cameras look out for overhead obstacles like tree branches, as part of a warning system that can be programmed to a vehicle’s height, including bicycles or other items riding on the roof.

Read more: Jaguar Land Rover tech subsidiary InMotion to test car sharing

“Terrain-Based Speed Adaptation” uses sensor information to determine the roughness of the path ahead, and automatically adjusts vehicle speed to suit. The system watches out for things like uneven surfaces, washboard roads, potholes, and standing water. JLR says it’s intelligent enough to predict the potential impact of these surfaces on the car’s ride.

Finally, JLR believes vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) could also be useful off road. V2V has been proposed by safety advocates as a way to transmit warnings of potential danger between cars on the road, but JLR thinks it could also share information among vehicles traveling off the pavement. A pair of Range Rover Sports were linked to form an “Off-Road Connected Convoy,” allowing them to share things like suspension settings and other adjustments being made to deal with the terrain.

This is the latest of several JLR autonomous-driving research projects. The company previously showcased a system that allowed drivers to control a Land Rover remotely, and it’s undertaking a data-collection project to help future autonomous cars drive more like humans.