We’ve already got used to the sleek, clinical lines and the minimalism of modern cars, but let’s face it – who doesn’t love a good, old muscle car? Exactly. What if we could combine those classical designs with the newest technology? That’s a challenge the guys at Siemens and the Cranfield University have set themselves recently.
Their plan was to enter an autonomously-driving 1965 Ford Mustang in the competition at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, a hill climb for historic motor racing vehicles held annually in the grounds of Goodwood House in England. This year was an important one because the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, so the project had to be something really special.
To prepare for the conversion of the Ford Mustang, a digital 3D model of the hill climb had to be created. This is because the course, though only 1,86 km long is only 2m wide, making it extremely challenging, especially for a driverless car. And so, the team set up a drone to photograph the course, which later on was also scanned with a laser. To see if an autonomously driving car could even finish the course, the digital model was tested in a race simulator. Turns out that yes, it could! And so, the team could proceed to prepare the car itself.
The biggest problem with converting the car was how precise it was, originally. For instance, the drum brakes react more slowly and using the steering wheel isn’t as easy as in modern cars. The car’s mechatronics system had to be perfect to manage braking, steering and acceleration. “The autonomous control system has to cope with all of this variability,” said James Brighton, an automotive engineer from Cranfield University who worked on the project.
During the Hillclimb, the Mustang used its sensors to locate itself on a 3D map created beforehand, basing on the initial digital model. There was, of course, a human passenger inside to keep everything under control, but the ride was a success! Cameras were installed inside and outside the car so that the public could see every moment of the ride.
The Mustang wasn’t the only modern thing during the festival, though. Siemens set up a Future Lab, in which you could find another “modernised” car, an Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB6 car. Since autonomous cars require no driver, the interiors of cars are undergoing a real revolution. To help the visitors visualise the potential, Siemens prepared a VR simulation in which they could experience such a redesigned space. Moreover, a California-based startup Hackrod visited the Lab with their La Bandita sports car to show how in the future customers will be able to customise the design of their cars and then 3D print it.
Even though the autonomous Ford Mustang didn’t have to race against other cars, this project shows some of the challenges such cars will face. They’ll have to communicate with other vehicles as well as traffic control centres, to adapt to potential dangers or warn others. It’ll also be possible to increase compliance with speed limits and even to synchronise traffic lights with vehicles’ speed, thus optimising the traffic flow and making our lives easier.