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Isle of Man could become autonomous driving test site

By raccars Published

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Could the Isle of Man soon become an autonomous driving test centre for car manufacturers?

A 221 square mile island in the Irish Sea with only 688 miles of roads doesn't sound particularly promising as an automotive technology test bed. However with no speed limits and as the site of the annual TT motorcycle race, the Isle of Man is actually an interesting proposition. Now the Manx Minister of Environment, Food and Agriculture, Phil Gawne, is putting the island forward as a possible test site for the research and development of autonomous driving technology.

Legal implications for the Isle of Man

A focus group has been established on the island to determine its suitability for working with the technology and the legal implications of allowing testing to take place. From a business point of view, the Isle of Man's government is considering offering companies an incentive programme to encourage them to set up research facilities there. Its small size makes legislating the project relatively easy compared with establishing test sites on the mainland. Any necessary legal changes could be pushed through within a couple of months.

Mr Gawne is excited about what such a project could offer the island in terms of its independence and its image. While the Manx government is consulting with major manufacturers about the idea, so far none have confirmed any commitment to the project at this stage.

Jaguar Land Rover testing autonomous technology on public roads

Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover is working on a project to test its autonomous vehicle technology on public roads in the UK mainland, in a 41 mile 'living laboratory'. JLR is working with the UK Government on the £5.5 million project, called the Connected Intelligent Transport Environment (CITE). Roads around Coventry and Solihull will be used in the experiment, close to JLR's facilities in those locations. 100 vehicles will take part in the trial, including five JLR models modified to use autonomous driving technology. The aim, insofar as possible, is to simulate a real world driving environment to ensure that the tests are realistic.

The test cars are designed to perceive the infrastructure surrounding them, including gantries overhead and traffic lights. They will be able to communicate with each other and with emergency vehicles in order to test the potential of traffic congestion reduction by intelligent route mapping. The trial should also be able to evaluate the potential improvements to road safety when the element of human error is eliminated.

The connected car is supposed to improve efficiency in lane changing and in other on-road manoeuvres, while Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control sees the vehicles communicating with each other to use the road as efficiently as possible by travelling closer together and reducing unused road space without compromising on safety. If successful, this technology could replace the overhead gantries, each of which cost £1 million to build. Drivers could also be notified in advance of incidents and accidents further ahead on their route, enabling them to make route planning decisions to avoid possible delays.

CITE project

The new real life route will offer five different road types and junctions for the JLR research and technology team. Along with Jaguar Land Rover, CITE project partners include Coventry City Council and Coventry University, HORIBA MIRA, Siemens, the University of Warwick, Visteon, Vodafone and WMG. Government funding of £3.41 million has been contributed from the £100 million Connected Vehicles fund.

Similar test projects are already under way in other European countries, and if the UK wants to remain at the forefront of innovation in automotive technology it needs to establish its own autonomous driving testing infrastructure. JLR claims that the new test site will be used in the research and development of new technologies but has not, as yet, offered a date for the release of production versions of autonomous vehicles.

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