Racing to Tomorrow in a Muscle Car
In the decades ahead, most vehicles will roll along streets and highways autonomously. But older vehicles might do so as well – as a cooperative project by Siemens and the UK’s Cranfield University demonstrates. The project team is sending an autonomously driving 1965 Ford Mustang into competition at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. At the same time, Siemens will be exhibiting in a Future Lab in order to show visitors where autonomous driving will take us in the future.
Competing in the Hillclimb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England in the summer is considered an honor by racing and test drivers, passionate vintage car fans, and other selected “petrolheads.” They might do the climb in the cockpit of a Formula One racing car, a Silver Arrow that has come to rest in a factory museum, a high-horsepower super sports car or an innovative prototype.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the traditional high-horsepower spectacle, which is held on the grounds of Goodwood House, the seat of the Duke of Richmond. And on this anniversary, the British Cranfield University is working with Siemens to send a very special vehicle to take part in the Hillclimb: a silver 1965 Ford Mustang, which will be driven by specialized software supported by sensors and mechatronics. “With the help of the engineers and students of Cranfield University, we are bringing together the proud heritage of the automotive industry with its future – autonomous driving,” said Juergen Maier, CEO of Siemens UK.
At Goodwood, the future is paying a visit, and the silver Ford Mustang is only one of its incarnations. At Siemens’ exhibit at the festival’s ‘Future Lab’ you can find not only an Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB6 car but also its digital twin. Like all Red Bull Formula One vehicles, the RB6 was created with the help of Siemens PLM manufacturing software. Visitors to Future Lab can also experience a virtual-reality (VR) simulation of the revolution that is taking place inside vehicles; after all, if there’s no driver, previously unimaginable design options are opened up. Visitors can also take a look at the La Bandita sports car created by the Californian startup Hackrod to find out how customers will one day be able to playfully customize the design of their sports cars or other vehicles – and then print them.
With the help of the Cranfield University, we are bringing together the proud heritage of the automotive industry with its future.
Practicing in a Race Simulator
One prerequisite for the conversion of the Ford Mustang was a digital 3D model of the Hillclimb, which Bentley Systems and Siemens developed for Goodwood in 2017. To create the model, a drone photographed the course, which was also scanned by a vehicle equipped with a laser. The resulting data made it possible to design an accurate model of the course. At the last Goodwood Festival of Speed, visitors to Future Lab put on VR headsets to find out firsthand what it’s like to race up the hilly track on a Ducati motorcycle. The highly challenging course is only 1.86 kilometers long, but barely more than two meters wide.
The team from Cranfield University tested this digital model in a race simulator in order to find out whether they could finish the course with an autonomously driving Ford Mustang. The feedback was positive. Next, they used a 3D map to define an ideal track. During the Hillclimb itself, the Mustang orients itself with the help of its sensors, which locate it on the 3D map. The vehicle is also equipped with cameras inside and out so that the public can follow this autonomous joyride as it happens. Of course, there is still a human passenger, but he intervenes only if it’s absolutely necessary.
The biggest technical challenge for the Mustang’s engineers was to set up the vehicle’s mechatronics system in such a way that it can correctly manage braking, steering, and acceleration. By comparison to modern vehicles, you couldn’t really call the classic muscle car a paragon of precision. There’s a lot of play in the steering wheel, and the drum brakes don’t react as fast as one might like. “The autonomous control system has to cope with all of this variability,” explains automotive engineer James Brighton from Cranfield University.
Obviously, autonomous driving includes a lot more than precise steering and breaking. If a driver is not needed, radically new design possibilities are opened up for the vehicle’s interior. Visitors to Future Lab can sit down in two rotatable front seats and a backbench and use VR glasses to experience a completely reinvented auto interior. As the virtual ridebegins, an urban landscape rolls past along the side windows. A bit later, a display in the windows shows what the car’s laser and infrared sensors are perceiving. The ride, which lasts only a few minutes, ends in front of a virtual Goodwood House. “Siemens technology plays a key role in design of future interiors – from seat covers and air-conditioning to electronic interfaces and controls,” says Ed Bernardon, Vice President for Strategic Automobile Initiatives at Siemens. “And we can do even more,” he adds. “Simulation tools speed design by virtually testing vehicles and their sensor systems as well as their production lines.”
In the future, autonomously driving vehicles will increasingly rely on networking. For example, they will communicate directly with other vehicles and with traffic control centers. That will enable vehicles to adapt their speed and warn other vehicles about potential hazards. Such technologies will also help cars to comply with speed limits and synchronize their speed with traffic lights in a way that optimizes traffic flow. These traffic control technologies, which Siemens and other companies have developed, are not yet being used in Goodwood. After all, there’s no congestion on the Hillclimb, because every vehicle races against the clock alone. “However, next year it will be possible for an autonomously driving car to recognize the flag signals on the course and react appropriately,” says Brighton. “But will it help the vehicle to beat Nick Heidfeld’s 41.6-second track record of 1999? That will probably take a bit longer.”
Picture credits: from top: 2.picture Gibson/Goodwood Festival of Speed
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