More than 40 miles of road around Solihull and Coventry will be used to test a new generation of “smart” cars as part of a £20 million Government scheme backed by Jaguar Land Rover to develop vehicles which drives themselves.
New roadside communications equipment will be installed along the route during the three-year project, to allow a fleet of up to 100 connected and “highly automated” cars to send information to each other.
The aim is to allow cars to co-ordinate changing lanes and turning or crossing at junctions, to make journeys faster and safer.
The technology could also allow driverless cars to follow each other in close formation – known as platooning – making driving safer and ensuring road space is used more efficiently.
Cars will also be alerted when emergency vehicles are approaching, so that they move out of the way safely. Roadside infrastructure such as traffic lights and overhead gantries will be fitted with technology so that information currently shown visually to drivers can be sent directly to vehicles.
So far the route is being kept secret – it is described as “40 miles of urban roads, dual-carriageways and motorways”.
The technology could send alerts to drivers through the dashboard – or, eventually, directly to automated systems controlling vehicles.
Leading carmakers are working on technology allowing cars to be partly or fully automated, giving the driver a choice about how much control they wanted the on-board system to have.
Jaguar Land Rover, which has major plants in Birmingham and Solihull, last year said it believed it would develop a self-driving vehicle within ten years.
The British Government has pledged to support research and development in the United Kingdom and Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, has announced a £20 million package of schemes to help develop the next generation of vehicles.
The 41-mile “living laboratory” of UK roads in the West Midlands will be used to test a fleet of 100 research vehicles , including five Jaguar and Land Rover models.
Wolfgang Epple, director of research and technology, Jaguar Land Rover, said: “This real-life laboratory will allow Jaguar Land Rover’s research team and project partners to test new connected and autonomous vehicle technologies on five different types of roads and junctions.
“Similar research corridors already exist in other parts of Europe so this test route is exactly the sort of innovation infrastructure the UK needs to compete globally.
“The connected and autonomous vehicle features we will be testing will improve road safety, enhance the driving experience, reduce the potential for traffic jams and improve traffic flow. These technologies will also help us meet the increasing customer demand for connected services whilst on the move.”
The Jaguar Land Rover research team will focus on testing warning systems which alert drivers, and future autonomous vehicles, to hazards and changing traffic conditions.
Dr Epple added: “The benefits of smarter vehicles communicating with each other and their surroundings include a car sending a warning that it is braking heavily or stopping in a queue of traffic or around a bend. This will enable an autonomous car to take direct action and respond. Drivers would receive a visual and audible warning that another car is causing a hazard out of sight or over the horizon.”
Mr Javid said: “Our cars of the future will be equipped with the technologies that will make getting from A to B safer, faster, and cleaner. They will alert drivers of accidents ahead and be able to receive information from their surroundings about hazards, increasing the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
“Britain is a world-leader in research and development in such innovative technologies which improve lives and create opportunity for all. That is why this government has protected the £6 billion science budget and is providing up to £20 million for these projects.”