As technological showcases go, Siemens’ autonomous Mustang demo at Goodwood yesterday was right up there with Microsoft’s blue screen of death at the Windows 98 launch, Honda’s Asimo faceplanting down the stairs or that Volvo emergency braking demo where an S40 ploughed straight into the back of a truck trailer. In short, it was a comical backfire.
It proceeded up the hill like a sherried-up pensioner on the way home from the RSL, hoping that by keeping to a 20km/h top whack they wouldn’t be noticed by the fuzz. Weaving onto the grass shoulder and then pinballing back towards the hay bales, the vinyl-wrapped 1965 Stang had Goodwood’s head honcho, Lord March, in the back which probably only added to the angst the students of Cranfield University, who co-developed the car, were suffering.
With a security driver ready to grab at the wheel if it went after a pedestrian or set off the line backwards into the snout of a hypercar, there was an element of double security, with a big ‘off’ button that would bring the car to a rapid halt available. In the latter part of the course, where the track narrows and is enclosed by a canopy of trees, the driver was steering the thing himself, trying to keep his right hand low on the wheel rim beyond the GoPro’s view.
At one point Lord March goes to wave to the crowd, only for the car to lurch violently back the other way, at which point he stops waving and looks appropriately terrified.
“I was expecting worse,” said Siemens’ technical adviser as he watched the vehicle veering about, blaming interference from the camera feeds and the narrowness of the track for the car’s crazy overcompensations.