What Caused Siemens’ Self-Driving Mustang Difficulty At Goodwood

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Assuming you’ve seen any of our coverage of this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, chances are strong you saw something about a 1965 Ford Mustang outfitted with self-driving technology that attempted to break new ground by completing the hillclimb autonomously. The car was prepared by Siemens and Cranfield University, and its first run up the 1.16-mile course was… not great. The man stationed in the drivers seat had to take manual control from the car on numerous occasions as it system weaved back and forth up the hill, apparently determined to crash into some hay bales.

Thanks to an articles by The Sunday Times, we now know why the self-driving ’65 Mustang was so erratic at the Goodwood Hillclimb, giving us an idea of the steep grade of Siemens’ and Cranfield University’s uphill battle.

For starters, according to the team at Cranfield, one of the pipes used by the vintage Ford Mustang‘s hydraulic power steering sprang a leak on Thursday, shortly before the car was set to attempt the hillclimb for the first time. That caused sudden pressure changes in the system that were difficult for the software to compensate for. Compounding things is that some TV production people reportedly advised the car’s builders to make pendulous swings a part of the Mustang’s programming, believing that home viewers would be impressed to see the car moving its own steering wheel at all times during the run.

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Yes, the car’s incessant swerving back and forth was a programmed feature, not a bug.

But perhaps the biggest impediment to a smooth first run is that the Siemens/Cranfield self-driving 1965 Mustang had a rushed development time, the programming being done by a Cranfield University Masters student in just six weeks. LiDAR was left out of the equation, and although the car did have RADAR sensors installed, they were deactivated as the project’s technical lead believed they might have easily been thrown by small environment changes – like, say, someone decimating a hay bale in a crash.

Instead, the Siemens self-driving Mustang relied primarily upon GPS and inertial navigation – a system that tracks movement by measuring acceleration and yaw in all directions. Such a combination theoretically ought to be apt for a short, pre-mapped run like at Goodwood, but only if the GPS signal remains strong throughout. The trees, the giant stone wall, and perhaps even the television antennae all posed threats to a clean GPS signal.

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Eventually, after some fiddling, Siemens’ autonomous Ford Mustang got one or two relatively smooth runs up the Goodwood Hillclimb, demonstrating that it is indeed possible to deploy a self-driving car in a pre-mapped area with nothing but GPS and inertial navigation to get around. Not that we would ever want to ride in it.

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Written by Aaron Brzozowski

Aaron Brzozowski is a writer and motoring enthusiast from Detroit with an affinity for '80s German steel. He is not active on the Twitter these days, but you may send him a courier pigeon.

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4 Comments

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  1. I see it as a complete success for the students. They leaned things that worked and not worked. They’ll definitely be applying this learning experience in their carriers ahead of them.

  2. what caused it? I’ll tell you, trying to remove driving from cars. Cars are meant to be driven by people, not some autonomous crap! stop trying to be so damn innovative all the time. if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! Cars are meant to be rear wheel drive v8 powered or 4×4 and v8 powered, this front wheel drive, autonomous, hybrid, electric nonsense needs to stop. if it isn’t a v8 gasoline or diesel powered car or truck driven by a human being, it shouldn’t be on american roads.

    • 35,000 people are killed every year in the US alone and anyway to reduce it even by one it is worth it. Full autonomous may never really come to reality, but small pieces are already coming into your favorite vehicle. My kid just bought a 2018 Honda Pilot with the sensor package. If you drift off the lane it will alarm you and make the steering correction. Anti lock and later on anti skid became standard over twenty years ago. Yes, it’s all part of the automation process.

      • Things to increase safety is one thing, having a machine take over my vehicle is another. Technology is only good if humanity still had 98% control of the situation. anything more than that, no thank you. and you made your argument worse by mentioning your kid’s Honda. The only company worse than Honda to me is Tesla. If it’s not a Ford, Chevy or Dodge with a V8 or a Diesel in it then its not worth mentioning.

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