‘We want to make Ireland the centre of the universe for autonomous cars’

29 Jun 2018

John Cormican, general manager of vehicle engineering at Jaguar Land Rover Ireland. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Speaking at Inspirefest 2018, Jaguar Land Rover’s John Cormican said that Ireland’s west coast is a hotbed of autonomous car activity and could one day rival Detroit in stature.

While we tend to look at what’s going on in Silicon Valley and China for the latest in autonomous car development, little do people know that Ireland is quietly becoming one of Europe’s biggest developmental hotbeds for the technology.

‘Driving’ much of this development is the recently established Jaguar Land Rover automotive research centre in Shannon, Co Clare. This centre is not only developing the technology for electric vehicles, but also aims to give those vehicles Level 4 autonomy.

To put this into perspective, the final stage – Level 5 – would be a vehicle that could drive completely on its own without any human intervention – something that is a long, long way down the road.

Leading much of this development from its Shannon site is John Cormican, the centre’s general manager for vehicle engineering. He recently spoke at Inspirefest 2018 about how the west coast of Ireland has all the ingredients for an automotive launch pad.

For starters, Jaguar Land Rover is a member of the Connected and Automated Vehicles Ireland forum, made up of various research organisations and companies with the aim of combining all of the different stakeholders to create a focused Irish development effort.

Setting out its stall, Cormican said: “We want to make Ireland the centre of the universe for autonomous vehicles.”

Ireland is the perfect testbed

From an academic point of view, Cormican said on stage that Shannon’s location between Galway and Limerick is ideal, with the University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology, NUI Galway and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology all within a relatively short distance of one another.

“That cluster between Cork, Limerick and Galway is producing many, many thousands of graduates, and that’s primarily the reason why Jaguar Land Rover moved to Shannon because we can access that talent pool, and there are some great courses there that we are hiring from,” he said.

Speaking of the near future, Cormican added that the M18, which connects Limerick and Galway, will be the focal point for much of the autonomous vehicle development in Ireland, acting as a testbed for the systems developed at its Shannon site.

But even beyond this, the west of Ireland is an ideal proving ground for self-driving cars given that unlike the dry, straight roads in California and Arizona, Ireland has some of the most challenging driving conditions possible.

“We have grass on the road, we have sheep on the road, we have stones on the road, we have potholes and we have very interesting weather conditions,” he said.

“If we can get this right for the west of Ireland, we can do it anywhere in the world.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Ultra Early Bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic