Shropshire student's ambition to create driverless off-road vehicle

An ambitious plan to create a student-built driverless off-road vehicle has begun at Shropshire's Harper Adams University with the first of a series of research projects.

James Seymour is aiming to kick start a series of student research projects to transform a manual transmission car to a driverless vehicle
James Seymour is aiming to kick start a series of student research projects to transform a manual transmission car to a driverless vehicle

The first project to begin work on transforming a manual transmission Dacia Duster into an autonomous off-road vehicle will be carried out by final year MEng (Hons) automotive engineering (off-highway) student James Seymour as a dissertation project.

He said: “I wanted to use my thesis to combine my interest in vehicles and future technology. The vehicle I am using for my project was purchased for a student project in 2016 and is used by various lecturers for teaching purposes.

“The end goal is to have a fully autonomous off-road vehicle that is capable of driving around the onsite off-road course we have here at Harper. It is a very large project which has to be broken down into multiple projects.

“Being the first to ‘kick-start’ a series of student projects makes me feel proud to be able to share this experience with other students. I am hoping that the next stages of the project are conducted by students who are equally enthusiastic about this subject.”

James, 23, is from Alveley, near Bridgnorth.

He chose to study his course at Harper for its practical side – which has seen graduates go on to apply their studies in careers in a diverse range of companies, including JCB, Caterpillar, Jaguar Land Rover and more.

He added: “With a smaller uni such as Harper, you often get great opportunities - for example my dissertation.

“It is not often that you get these kinds of opportunities, I am delighted that after four years at Harper Adams University I can conduct a project of this size. It would be a great legacy to leave behind.”

While coronavirus safety measures have meant much of James’ work has been research-based rather than practical so far, he is hoping to hear from fellow engineers who have been working in the field of vehicle adaption – particularly those who have worked to make functions normally carried out by humans into ones which can be carried out autonomously.

He added: “To achieve autonomy in an existing vehicle, the driver-controlled functions must first be mechanised.

“As I am attempting to mechanise a manual car, this creates a more difficult problem. I have been getting inspiration from companies who conduct vehicle adaptations for disabled customers but I am looking for external experts who could offer their prior experience in mechanising functions that are designed to be controlled by a human.

“There are an increasing number of job opportunities in the automotive industry for engineers with experience in autonomous vehicles. I hope to increase my employability through my thesis and aspire to further the vehicle industry through harnessing the benefits of increased efficiency and safety from autonomy.”

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