Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has confirmed that it is collaborating in a new research hub in Shannon, to help design and test future connected and self-driving vehicles. The car maker already has a software development office in Shannon, dedicated to developing computer systems for connected and autonomous cars.

The Future Mobility Campus Ireland (FMCI) will use 12km of roads in and around the Shannon Free Zone, next to the airport. The plan involves setting up sensors and infrastructure that will help the autonomous test cars communicate with and receive information from data collection points, as well as “smart” junctions so that the cars’ control systems can be warned of any potential hazards ahead. All of that will be installed during 2021.

Other infrastructure will include electric car-charging points, autonomous parking areas, and a dedicated air corridor in and out of Shannon Airport that will allow for the deployment of small drone aircraft, which will help to monitor and locate the autonomous test cars.

JLR will also use 450km of roads throughout Ireland to help test its next-generation technology. Those roads are part of the European C-ITS connected roads project, and run north and east to Drogheda and Dublin, and swing south to Cork. The tech and sensors for the C-ITS project will be installed over the next two years.

It has often been said that the proof of efficacy for autonomous car technology will be when such systems can deal with the twisting roads and shifting weather of Ireland’s west. JLR will start trying to prove that thesis with a fleet of modified I-Pace electric cars.

Tech partners

JLR won’t be going it alone at the Shannon site, however, the Anglo-Indian car maker is the lead partner of the FMCI and it will be joined by other tech companies as Cisco, Seagate, Renovo, Red Hat, Valeo (the French car component supplier, which already has significant test and development facilities in nearby Tuam) and Mergon. JLR has previously proposed that prototype and development vehicles could be flown into Shannon, and cleared directly through a dedicated channel for use in such a facility, but that does not appear to be part of the current plan.

The project has €7 million in earmarked investment and FMCI and its industry partners hope to be able to make announcements on jobs and recruitment in the coming months.

John Cormican, general manager for Shannon Ireland Jaguar Land Rover, said: “This partnership with FMCI provides us with a real-world facility to trial our emerging autonomous, connected, electrified and shared technology in a strategic location. Collaborating with top-tier software companies will allow us to develop our future systems more efficiently.”

Russell Vickers, chief executive of FMCI, said the Shannon zone would offer a “first-class facility” for the tests. “The testbed provides an opportunity to test in the real world and help answer some of the questions posed by the future of mobility in a collaborative and efficient way,” he said.

*By Neil Briscoe, The Irish Times*