Tech powers of the new Discovery

Published: 16 April 2014

SUVs that can be driven remotely like a Tamiya toy car, with cockpit functions controlled via gestures or freeform speech, and glass that relays images from external cameras to provide genuine 360-degree vision – Land Rover has given a glimpse inside its R&D lab to reveal exciting technology under development.

Think it’s all pie in the sky stuff, decades from production? There’s a remote control, current-shape Discovery out there testing right now, which can be driven from the outside using a touchscreen tablet.

Dr Wolfgang Epple, Jaguar Land Rover’s director of research and technology, said the equipment – all showcased on the new Discovery Vision concept – will be phased in over coming years to make Land Rovers the gold-standard for SUV versatility and capability.

‘The next 25 years will be the most demanding, challenging and most rewarding the car industry has ever experienced,’ said Dr Epple. ‘It starts with the environment, innovation and safety, then capabilities will come to life in areas you thought unimaginable, such as autonomous driving. The car of the future will become more capable, cleaner, more desirable, more connected, and it will be smarter.’

The self-driving Land Rover is on the way. ‘I can confirm that the Jaguar Land Rover intelligent car will be a reality within 10 years,’ Dr Epple pledged. The firm is keen to empower drivers to undertake as much or as little driving as they see fit. Epple’s view is that car enthusiasts could hand over control during boring parts of a commute, but savour the hands-on drive when a twisting B-road looms.

Read on to find out more about the high-tech features set to be rolled out on future Land Rovers.

REMOTE CONTROL DISCOVERY

So while future generation Discoverys will drive you, you’ll also be able to drive it – from the outside. Land Rover reckons it would be helpful during extreme, low-speed off-roading if the driver stepped out of the vehicle, and controlled the car using a virtual steering wheel rendered on a touchscreen. Tapping into the autonomous steering, brake and throttle remotely would also make it easier to pass through countryside gates that need closing.

LASER SIGHTS AND LIGHTS

Lasers will be a useful weapon in the intelligent Discovery’s armoury. They can scan the ground ahead, which is then relayed on the cockpit screen to render a map of the terrain you’re traversing, or measure the depth of water you’re planning to wade through. Or the lasers can emit a coloured reference point, projecting a beam ahead to check the car will safely pass through a narrow gap, or send a warning beam backwards or forwards in the event of a Land Rover stopping in a hazardous location.

Laser headlamps – set to be introduced by BMW and Audi in 2014 – also make an appearance on the concept. Emitting a more pure light that is less draining on the eyes, laser headlamps also boast an extra 300m range compared with today’s lamps. They promise to be more sophisticated than existing auto-dimming systems, simultaneously dipping on one side to avoid dazzling oncoming cars while deploying full beam with the other laser lamp.

SMART GLASS

The Discovery Vision concept is equipped with smart glass, capable of showing profound head-up display information to ‘augment reality’. A sensor could spot your eye gazing at a local landmark, and flash up information about it: BMW’s Vision ConnectedDrive in 2011 had similar superpowers. Smart roof glass could be changed to project a beautiful blue sky on a rainy day. And perhaps the most awe-inspiring application was trailered by Land Rover a few weeks ago: under-grille cameras could relay the view beneath the nose onto the lower part of the windscreen, making the bonnet appear transparent.

GESTURE CONTROL

The new Range Rover family has 50% fewer switches, and Land Rover believes sensor-tracked gesture control will help eliminate more over time. Gesture to the left of the steering wheel to indicate left, or decrease the window tint by swiping downwards. You could conceivably turn on the headlamps, or start an MP3 file playing with a gesture. ‘Gesture control will become reality soon,’ promises Epple. Getting your Land Rover to respond to your words, like KITT does to Michael Knight, is further away but possible. ‘The almost unlimited processing power of the Cloud will allow us to use sophisticated algorithms to take speech recognition to the next level,’ said Dr Epple. ‘But it can’t be implemented in today’s cars.’

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine

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