GRR

Look no hands: meet the first autonomous Goodwood Hillclimb road car

09th July 2018
Bob Murray

The ’65 Ford Mustang coupe burbles to the start line, the body rocking with the torque of the 289 motor, and then smoothly powers away up the Goodwood Hillclimb, carving  a neat line through the corners. So far so normal. But look carefully. The “driver” doesn’t even have his hands on the wheel. This ‘Stang is driving itself…

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Usually it takes a great deal of skill, bravery and determination to take a fast car cleanly up Goodwood’s 1.16 miles, balancing power and grip through Molecomb and skimming the Flint Wall with millimetre precision. Here, though, all it takes is a great deal of computer power.

This year’s Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard is the first time autonomous cars have been let loose on the hill. There are two of them: the Roborace racing car and this special Ford Mustang, first-ever road car to drive itself round the Goodwood bends.

Despite being an American sports car icon – and, from the outside at least, looking every inch the classic – it has a raft of hi-tech British know-how under its skin courtesy of Siemens and boffins from Cranfield University.

Siemens AG is Europe’s largest industrial manufacturing company and a digital pioneer in automated systems. What better way could there be to demonstrate the fast-approaching autonomous technology to a motoring-mad audience than with a classic car that can drive itself? Classic appeal hand in hand with innovation has been a Festival of Speed theme since the beginning, something noted here with the Ford resplendent in a special silver wrap to mark FoS’s silver jubilee.

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The GPS-guided Mustang has been developed in partnership with a Cranfield team led by senior lecturer in advanced automotive engineering, Dr James Brighton. It is James who will sitting in the Mustang for its twice daily runs.

Lee Dryden, Siemens’ head of marketing communications, explains: “It’s the first time we have done anything like this and yes of course it is fun to do it for the Festival of Speed, but it also makes you think what cars might be like in the future. Siemens is preparing for an increasingly autonomous future and this is part of that. Maybe there will be cars we can sleep in or watch a film in while they drive us to where we want to go. The Mustang raises those sorts of questions.”

Lee, who admits to being a car nut, says his choice of classic for the project came down to rather more basic instincts: “I just love the way the ’65 coupe looks, and the way the V8 roars. If you are going to  choose an iconic American car from the ‘60s, it’s the first thing that springs to mind.”

Despite having the standard 200 horsepower from the 289 (4.7-litre) motor, the autonomous Mustang is unlikely to break any hill records, as Lee told us when we caught up with him to find out more…

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How much about the Mustang did you have to change?

It looks 100 per cent original and it has the regular engine and three-speed transmission, plus the normal four-seat cabin. But under the skin a huge amount has gone into it: the robotics and control systems to physically drive it, lots of sensors and all the software with the control algorithms.

Can it drive itself anywhere?

No. It has been customised just to do the Goodwood Hillclimb. This isn’t the type of autonomous car that could find its way around a city.

Why is there a driver in there?

There has to be for safety reasons. The car will drive itself – accelerate, steer and brake – from the start to the finish line. Autonomy will do it all. But the driver can take control if he has to.

How fast will it go up the hill?

I would love for it to lay down black lines and hang its tail out but I am not sure the passengers would appreciate that. The speed will depend on the conditions and the weather, but it should be in excess of 40mph.

Can it be driven normally?

Yes absolutely. The controls are like any Mustang. Just flick a switch and it can be driven like any car.

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Why is Siemens doing this now?

Increasing levels of automation are coming in all sorts of walks of life. We felt it was time to celebrate that and look at what types of cars may be going up the Goodwood hill in the future. It’s great that we have been able to do this with a classic car from the past. The best of both worlds!

What do you say to people who’d much rather  drive their cars themselves?

What we are saying is that you can still drive your car. You can still enjoy driving it, but then you can have it drive you when you need it to. Our future is becoming increasingly autonomous in lots of ways. This is our answer to what that future may look like.

The Siemens autonomous road car will attempt to drive itself without human intervention up the Goodwood hill twice a day, every day, of FOS. Cameras on board the car will livestream its progress to the big screens around the estate.

  • Siemens

  • Ford

  • Mustang

  • FOS

  • FOS 2018

  • 2018

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