McLaren self-driving tech to improve lap times

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways July 6, 2016 11:44

McLaren self-driving tech to improve lap times

European supercar company considering alternative uses for autonomous drive systems

The end game of autonomous cars and advanced artificial intelligence in vehicles, say advocates, is to free up passengers’ time, improve safety and reduce emissions.

But will it spell the end of ‘fun’ vehicles and true driver’s cars?

“There’s not a lot of point of having one of these [points to a McLaren 570S] as a fully autonomous car,” argues Duncan Forrester, McLaren Auto’s Global Corporate Communications Manager.

“Where’s your enjoyment, where’s the reasons for them to exist?”

He makes a cogent point. But McLaren doesn’t see vehicle autonomy as a deadly omen for performance cars.

Forrester revealed that the exotic European car maker will embrace the advent of autonomous driver technology, and that it will be a part of sports cars and supercars in future – when required.

“We have to find our way [through the autonomous car revolution],” he said, “and I suspect what will probably happen is that some of the main roads, where safety is difficult, we will have an autonomous mode. You press a button and everybody is on autonomous mode.

“Then you get to back roads or wherever and turn it off and go and have some fun.”

And self-driving car tech can be leveraged for more than just gormless commuting, too.

“Autonomous [driver technology] can help you in terms of race track driving,” said Forrester.

He used the example of F1 driver Jensen Button setting a blistering lap time, then the software being uploaded at any time to other cars so drivers can sit in the vehicle – hands off the wheel – and see exactly where to brake, and where to apex a corner.

“You can use autonomous drive to educate yourself on racing lines,” he explained.

It’s a neat idea and one that could be adopted in other fields too, to teach drivers to stay in the slow lane unless overtaking, or to follow at a safe distance.

Forrester said McLaren is not actively working on a race track ‘trainer’ program for future autonomous car technology, but it’s clear the very clever boffins at the company’s Woking HQ are pondering such eventualities.

“My previous world was at Volvo. They bet the bank on autonomous drive. It’s a key differentiator how they’ll separate themselves from the Germans. For McLaren it doesn’t jump out as something we need, but we have to look at it because there’s ways autonomous drive could help us.

“If we meet here in 10, 15, 20 years’ time, the principle of what we do is still going to be very consistent. How we achieve it is going to be very different.

“Nobody needs a McLaren,” said the McLaren PR chief, “if you want a car that takes you from A to B, a Fiesta is really good.

“But what we sell, we don’t sell a car. We sell entertainment. If you take that as a premise, there is no doubt that legislation will change such that autonomous drive and connected cars will be seen as a safer way of driving.

“And that’s fine. But we then have to find our role in that world.”

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways July 6, 2016 11:44