The video below shows the first attempt by the autonomous 1965 Ford Mustang built by Siemens and Cranfield University. You may have seen this video when we featured it last week, but in this first run up the Goodwood Hill Climb course, the self-driving antique pony car has a miserable time following a normal racing line.
As soon as the run begins, the car weaves side to side like a drunk stumbling home after a long night at the bar and within the first few seconds of the run, the car runs off course, nearly hitting the straw bales before the human driver took control and saved the day. In fact, the human behind the wheel spent a great deal of that first run trying to keep the car on the road and while things would improve on later runs – this stunt proved to be a pair of black eyes for the autonomous vehicle movement.
Many people who are skeptical of letting a laptop drive their car were quick to point out that if a specially prepared autonomous car couldn’t safety navigate a fairly simple course at low speed then it can’t possibly be safe on public roads. Of course, this view ignores the fact that there is already autonomous technology at work on public roads that functions far smoother than this car, but in any case, those drivers who dislike the idea of self-driving cars had a good laugh at the 1965 Mustang.
According to The Sunday Times, the biggest issue was a mechanical failure in one of the 1965 Mustangs key systems, along with some very poor planning on the part of the team that set up the autonomous gadgetry.
Power Steering Failure
When Siemens and Cranfield University teamed up to install the future of automotive technology into an iconic classis car, they wanted to blend old and new as much as possible, so they used all of the mechanical components of the 1965 Ford Mustang. The autonomous system was designed to control the throttle, the brakes, the steering and the transmission, with everything working harmoniously in testing.
However, when the team arrived at Goodwood, they found that the power steering system was leaking fluid. They made some repairs, but even after the fix, the troubled power steering system required more force to turn the wheels than had originally been programmed into the self-driving system. This forced the team to make some programming changes at the event, to literally tell the system to turn the steering wheel with more force.
Unfortunately, their calculations were off, so when the car hit the track for the first time, the autonomous steering system didn’t turn the wheel with enough force so the car didn’t turn as much as the system expected – nearly sending it into the straw bales. The team was able to make adjustments after this run and later runs to improve the situation, but the failing power steering system played the biggest role in the early problems for the classic Mustang.
Next, many people wondered why the car wandered from side to side as it slowly made its way up the track. It turns out that the television production crew told the programming team that it would make for better viewing if there was a lot of motion in the steering wheel. So, the programmers set up the system to intentionally weave back and forth, letting us all watch in horror as the car pointlessly swerved closer and closer to the barriers.
To make matters worse, the radar systems installed on the 1965 Mustang had been turned off for the run, as the team was concerned that an unusual change in the safety barriers (as when another car crashed) would cause some confusion for the radar systems. With this in mind, they used a GPS location system with accompanying accelerometers and gyroscopes to guide the car, but the team found that the GPS signal kept breaking up and television broadcasting equipment in the car caused further interference with the systems.
In other words, the 53-year old mechanical parts started the event off on the wrong foot and the programming of the system led to more problems, complicated by interference and signal issues with the guidance systems.