Siemens’ autonomous 1965 Ford Mustang is a horse that can’t be tamed

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Siemens staged an unlikely (and unprecedented) marriage between classic cars and autonomous cars at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. It sent a custom-built 1965 Ford Mustang retrofitted with a full suite of autonomous technology to compete in the annual event’s famous Hillclimb. Unfortunately, the prototype’s first run didn’t go as planned.

Footage showing one of the Mustang’s first autonomous runs up the hill reveals it’s not ready for prime time yet. The prototype sets off at a glacial pace with four passengers on-board and immediately starts zig-zagging across the track like a ping pong ball. The safety driver behind the wheel takes control several times during the run to prevent the car from driving into the hay bales on either side of the track.

Siemens hasn’t released information about what happened yet. We contacted the company and we’ll update this story if we hear back.

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The German firm explains it designed the Mustang with the help of Cranfield University, a science and engineering school in England. Though Siemens hasn’t detailed the precise type of hardware and software it installed in the Mustang, it notes it used location scanning technology provided by Bentley Systems to create a 3D scan of the track and load it into the car’s onboard computer.

In other words, the Mustang doesn’t scan the road ahead; it know where it’s going ahead of time because it simply needs to follow preprogrammed instructions — at least in theory. This important distinction explains why the car looks largely stock. Most autonomous prototypes (like the ones built by Waymo, and Uber) are festooned with bulky radars, cameras, and sensors that scan what’s ahead, analyze the data, and react appropriately.

In contrast, the Goodwood-bound Mustang only stands out from a regular-production model with small, beer coaster-sized sensors on the hood and on the trunk lid. Though we don’t have technical details, the chromed 289 emblems on the front fenders suggest the Mustang uses a carbureted 4.7-liter V8 engine. It makes either 200, 225, or 271 horsepower depending on its state of tune — Ford offered all three in 1965.

It presumably shifts through the optional three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, which was only available with first two variants of the eight-cylinder. But considering the Mustang is now autonomous, nothing guarantees Siemens retained the period-correct engine and transmission combination. Siemens’ autonomous Mustang is scheduled to race up the Goodwood hill twice a day from July 12 to July 15.

Cameras inside and out will stream each run to screens scattered across the vast outdoors event. In recent years, the Hillclimb has morphed into a stage where companies from all over the automotive spectrum strut their stuff. Spectators can check out a dizzying array of machines including the Volkswagen I.D.

R that recently set a new record at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the record-setting Porsche 919 Evo, classic Formula One cars, and regular-production models.

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