Self-driving classic Mustang has less-than-stellar day at Goodwood

Semi-autonomous Ford classic struggled to stay on the pavement

A 1965 Ford Mustang equipped with self-driving technology had a rough first outing at the famed Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb, and its attempt was met with some snickers online.

Unlike other self-driving cars, the semi-autonomous Mustang did not use built-in sensors to monitor the actual roadway but relied instead on GPS tracking to follow the course and make adjustments as needed. The system obviously needs some tweaks.

A fully self-driving vehicle, Robocar, successfully made it to the top of the hill, a notable first for Goodwood. It had a much smoother ride up the winding incline thanks to a combination of radar, lidar, GPS and ultrasonic technologies, along with camera sensors.

“The challenge is that Goodwood is not the easiest place to do this,” Stefan Longo, a senior lecturer in vehicle control and optimization at Cranfield University, who worked on the Mustang with Siemens, said in a Facebook video. “It’s a very narrow, very narrow track. A meter error is enough to hit a wall.”

The Mustang took up every meter of that error room. At times, it swerved and seemed to visibly search for a lost GPS signal.

“Maybe it’s warming up the tires,” Longo joked, before theorizing that the car did, in fact, lose its way as the GPS signal faded in and out. Cameras and cell phones being used by spectators might have interfered with the connection.

While most people seemed impressed with Robocar, an electric self-driving race car built by Roborace and which made the climb in under two minutes, they also took to poking fun at the Mustang that expended nearly double that time wandering to the top.

The Mustang’s backup driver had to make corrections multiple times, including one last-ditch move to prevent the classic Ford from ramming into a haybale.

The Mustang made it to the top of the hill twice. Longo seemed pleased with the car’s performance, despite the hiccups in the technology.

He said that his students — who wrote a majority of the location algorithms — were more interested in creating technology that would assist drivers rather than take over all driving responsibilities.

“We realize that people still love to drive cars manually,” Longo said. “At the same time, driving a car manually in a traffic jam, for example, is not fun, so we tried to mix the two technologies. We still want to have a car that’s fun to drive, but if you don’t want to drive for whatever reason, you hit the button and the car goes autonomously.”

Longo also said the goal is to develop self-driving technology for any car, not just late models.

“We wanted to prove that we can retrofit autonomous technology into any car,” he noted. “If you go inside the car, you won’t notice anything. It looks like the it did in 1965.”

The Goodwood Festival of Speed — the world’s most-famous motorsports “garden party” featuring numerous timed runs up the hill and a festive car show — continues through Sunday at the Goodwood estate in Chichester, UK.

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2 Comments

  • Stephen Penrose
    July 14, 2018, 8:55 PM

    This has to be the stupidest use of good money I have ever seen.

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  • Tom Marks
    July 15, 2018, 5:18 AM

    Another autonomous vehicle fail. Thankfully the only thing this car was going to hit was hay, not pedestrians, cyclists, children, or other vehicles. It’s amazing that a significant amout of money was spent to develop this project with little or no consideration given to testing before unveiling it.

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