Jaguar Land Rover has pledged to produce an “intelligent car” which can drive itself within ten years.
The Midland-based firm told MPs it planned to build cars which gave motorists the option of driving for themselves or letting the vehicle take over.
But it also urged the Government to offer far more support to firms developing intelligent vehicles in the UK, warning that the technology could become just as important to the automotive industry as the development of low carbon vehicles.
The Government had pumped £500 million into a major project based at Warwick University to make the UK a world leader in low carbon technology – but similar investment was needed in intelligent vehicles, the manufacturer said.
JLR, which employs 29,000 people across the UK, set out its vision for the future in a submission to the Commons Transport Committee, which has launched an inquiry to consider what tomorrow’s cars will look like. Committee members include Redditch MP Karen Lumley (Con).
JLR pointed out that it was already building vehicles capable of applying the brakes automatically if it was in danger of crashing, as well as vehicles capable of helping drivers steer through difficult terrain.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has invited cities to bid for a share of £10 million to host a trial of driverless cars. Up to three cities will be selected for tests lasting 18 months to three years, beginning next year.
In evidence to the inquiry, JLR said: “Our vision is to offer a choice of an engaged or autonomous drive. Driving in the future will still be fun.
“Ultimately this could mean the car could drive itself if the driver chooses, and have intelligent systems that can be adjusted for a more engaging and involved drive.
“A Jaguar Land Rover Intelligent vehicle will become a reality within the next ten years and technology projects like the self-learning car are important steps on this journey.”
Highlighting past successes and two products to be launched in the near future, the submission said: “The UK has successes in the field as far back as 1996 when Jaguar was the first to market with Adaptive Cruise Control in the Jaguar XK.
“More recently, our Land Rover Discovery Vision concept showed how a car might anticipate a driver’s needs from seat settings and music to alerting people at their destination that they may be late.
“Our new Discovery Sport model was revealed earlier this month with autonomous emergency breaking. Our future vision is to offer a choice of an engaged or autonomous drive, a vehicle that makes the most of big data and data sharing.”
The Land Rover Discovery Vision was first revealed by JLR in April and is due to come on to the market next year.
Its features include a scanning system using infrared lasers emitted from the front fog-lamp, which can determine the type of terrain being driven over, such as snow, ice, mud, grass, water, rocks and so on, as well as the easiest path through it.
The Discovery Sport, also on sale next year, is the world’s first vehicle to offer an autonomous emergency braking system which uses cameras to detect objects that could pose the risk of a collision, such as queuing traffic – and which brakes automatically if needed.
And engineers at JLR’s Whitley plant in Coventry are developing ideas for “self-learning” vehicles which adapt to different drivers, for example by automatically arranging mirrors, the steering wheel, seat settings and interior temperature according to their preferences.
But in its submission to MPs, JLR also called on Ministers to do more to support the development of this technology.
It highlighted the Advanced Propulsion Centre UK, funded by £500 million from central government and £500 million from the industry, which is based at Warwick University and funds research and development across the country designed to make the UK a global centre of excellence for low carbon vehicles.
JLR told MPs: “Intelligent Mobility is as great a change as the development of cost effective and high performance battery or hydrogen propulsion, but attracts much less interest... the scale of public and private investment needed to lead is of the same order as the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
“This underlines the value of effective coordination with academic endeavour.”