Don’t think of the Land Rover Discovery Concept vehicle as a capable yet versatile off-road machine, think of it more as a rolling box of future technology on knobbly tyres.
JLR’s latest toy, which was launched with all due ceremony in New York yesterday, crams more blue sky thinking into its svelte shell than a Friday afternoon meeting of minds over at Google HQ. It's rare that a concept vehicle is launched with little to no mention of powertrains or chassis design – but with the Discovery Concept, the unveiling was predominantly focussed on future tech.
Phrases such as “Transparent Bonnet”, “Laser Headlamps” and “Passenger Human Machine Interface” rarely get bandied around motor shows, so Stuff went behind the scenes to get an exclusive look at the most advanced car that Land Rover - or any other manufacturer, for that matter – has ever created…
Let’s start with the easy bit, the exterior shell of the Land Rover Discovery Concept. Its chief designer, Gerry McGovern, describes the svelte yet squat SUV as “athletic and sporting” yet with enough knowing design cues to establish it as part of the Land Rover family and not some disused prop from Minority Report.
The stepped roof, integrated C-pillar and high beltline all provide familiar nods to the Discovery models of old – but this concept emphasises the ‘sports’ part of Sports Utility Vehicle with a large boot-lip spoiler, flared wheel arches and steeply raked front windscreen for maximum drag reduction.
Land Rover’s philosophy with its newest Range Rover model was to reduce interior switchgear by 50 per cent. The very same theory was applied to the Discovery Concept, with stripped-back, glossy surfaces unmarked by the buttons and dials found in most modern cars.
They've been replaced by gesture controls for the most common functions in the car, as Dr Wolfgang Epple, Research and Technology Director at JLR, tells Stuff: “In the not-so distant future, occupants will be able to change the opacity of the window tint, change music tracks and close the doors with hand gestures. Obviously there will be certain things that will be controlled by buttons for safety reasons but on the whole, we want to completely de-clutter the interior of our cars.”
This technology, which was revealed last week, uses two cameras installed into the front bumpers that send a live video feed to a head-up display in front of the driver. This can render the bonnet of the vehicle ‘invisible’, improving visibility during off-road pursuits or when tackling tricky parking spaces.
Some of the technology in the Discovery is still a way off – and you'll have to wait for the invisible bonnet to become a reality. “The head-up displays currently on the market just aren’t powerful enough to handle the live picture feed,” Epple notes. “You need a laser head-up display that allows high-resolution pictures to be projected onto it. There are laser head-up display systems currently in development, which will allow this technology to be viable in a couple of years but for now this is just a concept,” he added.
More after the break...
Smart Glass technology everywhere
One technology that is currently available is Smart Glass – and Land Rover's used it extensively in the Vision Concept. When connected to the Cloud, the car projects data bout its surroundings onto the window; passengers can then transfer it to a portable device or the seatback entertainment screen for more information.
Did you just drive past the Eiffel Tower and want to know when it was built? No problem; just swipe, connect to Wikipedia and voila. The car's Smart Glass sunroof can also allow display semi-transparent imagery, meaning the dismal British weather can be replaced by Caribbean sunshine at the wave of a hand.
Automated off-road prowess
Self-driving cars are close to becoming a reality thanks to advancements in car-to-car technology and the continual improvement of radar technology – but Land Rover wants to take it one step further. “We want the vehicle to be able to drive semi-autonomously off-road,” explains Dr Epple. “Technology is far better at detecting and judging unseen obstacles than the human being, so in certain circumstances, it makes sense to let the machine take over.”
This vision is realised with Laser Terrain Scanning, which uses infrared lasers in the Discovery’s foglamps to scan the route ahead and map the terrain to be displayed on a high-resolution cluster screen. These lasers can also project shapes onto the ground, allowing the driver to mark out a parking bay they are about to reverse into or project onto the terrain to use as a reference point when squeezing through tight gaps.
Remote Control Driving
Remember Pierce Brosnan driving his BMW with a phone in Tomorrow Never Dies? Well, Land Rover's one-upped him. In true James Bond style, it's making remote controlled driving a reality – you can step outside of the vehicle and manoeuvre it using a removable secondary rotary on the centre console, as well as via a smartphone or tablet.
“Situations where a better view of the surroundings is required will be tackled with remote driving,” revealed Epple. “Imagine the ease at which you could hitch a trailer to the back if you are standing outside of the car,” he added. A Jaguar spokesperson said that this technology was already in a late testing phase and not too far from being “very real.”
The Discovery Vision may be a concept for now, but we can't wait to get behind the wheel of a self-driving, remote-controlled car with laser headlights and an invisible bonnet. Eat your heart out, James Bond.
READ MORE: The 25 best concept cars ever