Joe Lynam: The future of autonomous driving taking shape on the Atlantic

Joe Lynam checks out the Jaguar Land Rover Facility in the Shannon Free Zone.
Joe Lynam
Joe Lynam

13.43 10 Mar 2023

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Joe Lynam: The future of auton...

Joe Lynam: The future of autonomous driving taking shape on the Atlantic

Joe Lynam
Joe Lynam

13.43 10 Mar 2023

Share this article

Just as you should never judge a book by the cover, you should never judge modernity by the remoteness of the town.

Shannon was created out of marshland six decades ago and was supposed to be a new type of Irish urban dwelling.

The airport became a vital hub for transport communications and tourism but it fell out of favour in the 1990s, as all the technology companies wanted to be close to Intel and the capital city on the east coast.


Rather than falling into decline, locals reinvented Shannon and those concrete warehouses were slowly but surely replaced with far more modern and energy-efficient buildings to attract international companies.

Into this mix in the last five years has come Jaguar Land Rover.

The British classic carmaker decided to send its brightest software engineers to Shannon to work on how the cars of the 2020s and even the 2030s should be controlled.

It is here in the Shannon Free Zone that Jaguar Land Rover - now owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata motors - is testing self-driving cars known as automated vehicles.

It is also here that it is quite obvious that the law and especially the insurance industry has a lot of catching up to do to meet the speed with which automated and semi-autonomous vehicles are progressing.

Jaguar Land Rover in Shannon. Jaguar Land Rover in Shannon. Image: Joe Lynam/Newstalk

It’s probably not a stretch to say that children born from 2020 onwards may not ever need to own a car - nor even a driving license - if the law will allow them to get behind an autonomous vehicle and propel them from A to B.

The amiable Limerick-born boss of JLR in Shannon, John Cormican, brings me to an all-but-empty, yet brand-new building adjacent to where most of his colleagues work in the Shannon Free Zone.

The cleaner greets us but there’s no one there milling around at the entrance because many of the staff can work their software magic in the comfort of their own kitchen.

Inside a large hall, Mr Cormican shows me a silver cage which is called a ‘rig.’

It looks like something you'd store computer servers in, but at a cost of €2 million, it’s roped off from the hoi polloi like me.

The rig is how software designed in Shannon is tested on the Range & Land Rovers of the future.

JLR Shannon General Manager John Cormican JLR Shannon General Manager John Cormican. Image: Joe Lynam/Newstalk

Beside the rig is a gleaming Land Rover with two engineers staring at laptops digesting data from the last test run.

Back in Dublin, my Newstalk colleagues commented how they had no idea that such cutting-edge technology was being piloted on the western seaboard of Europe – and I get a sense that JLR is happy to keep its little secret under the radar.

What started off with a handful of software boffins in 2017 has mushroomed into 300+ staff dreaming up and implementing software applications which the cars can pull down from the cloud without even stopping to order a ‘skimmed oat milk Mugachino.’

A Land Rover at JLR Shannon. A Land Rover at JLR Shannon. Image: Joe Lynam/Newstalk

I wondered whether it’s a tough ask to attract talented engineers to Shannon as opposed to more cosmopolitan parts of Europe?

“It's quite a big recruitment drive we've been on since we opened up in 2017,” said Mr Cormican. “I wouldn't classify it as being remote.

“I mean, we live in the west of Ireland. It's one of the most beautiful places in the world. We're in between two major cities, Galway and Limerick.

“We have a flexible working environment. We attract engineers from all over Ireland. We embrace flexible working and working from home.”

JLR is also keen for the physical and legal infrastructure to improve in Ireland, which lags way behind many of its European neighbours in terms of charging points.

On top of that, no autonomous car is permitted to even be tested on Irish public roads, Meaning JLR needs its own test track.

When asked what one or two things he’d like to see changed to speed up the automation and testing side of self-driving cars, Mr Cormican is clear.

“I think accelerating more technology courses in those universities and colleges is important,” he said. “But one thing that's quite specific is legislation for the testing of autonomous vehicles on Irish public roads under very strict safety guidelines. [it] is something we've been asking for quite some time.”

If Mr Cormican gets his way, there might be phantom drivers cruising around the west of Ireland in gleaming SUVs in the very near future.

You can listen back to the full report here:

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