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Laser Terrain Scanning, built into fog lamps, identifies terrain ahead and depicts best way to traverse.

Land Rover's Discovery Vision concept has real future for 2015

The Land Rover Discovery's image is of a capably rugged vehicle with room for seven, and interior luxury that goes with its clearly premium exterior. But what makes the Discovery Vision Concept unique is that it proposes to use technology that might seem aimed for "soft" urban/suburban operation, but is being engineered to more confidently tackle some of the most challenging off-road uses.

The "concept," introduced at the 2014 New York Auto Show, will become a lineup of Discovery SUVs, with a Sport model coming early next year. Land Rover hasn't said which of the advanced technologies the Sport will use, but Dr. Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology, described them and how they would work for the Discovery driver.

The self-driving car—"autonomous drive"—is technically feasible, and with such features as adaptive cruise control and automatic parking, the technology is already pretty close to production-ready, with vehicles expected to be on the road in 2020 and beyond. Before that, there would be enough cars to make autonomous operation feasible on public roads and possible uses for a limited function Remote Control Drive. With this, the driver is out of the car and controlling it with a remote device, perhaps a smartphone with an app. Ford has said it would incorporate such a system into a car with self-parking capability. So the driver could remotely pull a car into a packed garage that has no room to open the doors, restart it, and back it out.

Land Rover offered additional, appealing applications. A driver could be his own off-road spotter, standing in front of the vehicle while slowly "driving" and steering it (and changing suspension settings if necessary) to guide it over an especially difficult, rocky section or through a very narrow clearance area. The company also suggested it would be useful where the driver has to get out of the vehicle to open access gates, uses the remote to pull the car through, closes the gates, and gets back behind the wheel. The system also would permit one-person hookup of a trailer, remotely controlling the vehicle to back it up into position while standing at the trailer.

Terrain response laser scanning

Many SUVs have adopted a form of the terrain response system pioneered by Land Rover, in which turning a knob allows the driver to select suspension and powertrain settings for different road surfaces from sand to snow. Land Rover sees its next step as Laser Terrain Scanning, in which infrared lasers built into the fog lamps, view the road ahead and automatically pick the appropriate terrain response settings. In addition, a high-definition screen depicts the topography ahead and provides a visual plot of the best way to get through it. 

Land Rover said its next generation of terrain response will incorporate advanced road texture detection to provide a number of new features. Among them would be Wade Aid, LR's new water depth sensing system that uses lasers to determine the depth of a stream or other body of water ahead to ensure there is enough underbody clearance. Others include automatic hill descent control, wet grass traction control, automatic selection of high or low range, and low-speed steering assist.

The system also will have a "cruise control" feature for off-road. If the off-road terrain to be scanned isn't in the class of a Rubicon Trail, the system will be able to semi-automatically operate the vehicle at low speed with torque vectoring. There also will be "coaching" modes, one in which a menu allows a driver to enter the type of terrain and get recommended off-road systems to be activated. A second would generate a terrain map. That would suggest the appropriate systems to get through, step-by-step. The driver will always be able to pick the balance between automatic guidance and his/her own involvement.

If there's a narrow clearance area for the Discovery to get through, laser referencing is an additional driver resource. It can project images onto road surfaces, which could be used in a variety of ways such as reference points onto pavement to help the driver judge tight gaps and for parking assist. It also could project warning triangles onto the road surface behind a vehicle, if it were stopped, or even markings on walls, rock piles, etc. ahead.

Transparent hood—not really

A "transparent hood" is another forthcoming feature. The hood isn't really transparent; it just seems to be because cameras that detect road texture below the front of the vehicle and immediately ahead project video to a heads-up display (HUD) onto the windshield. So instead of the hood, the driver sees the road just below it. All the exterior windows, in addition to the windshield, have projection display capability, so Land Rover calls it Smart Glass. It can be used to show images from other cameras onto the glass surfaces, which could make it easier to park with a trailer or just back up with one, as examples.

If the driver wants to create his/her own interior atmosphere, a gesture control enables all the glass surfaces to be dimmed for privacy, and even a clear sunny sky display in the sunroof on a cloudy day with an impending storm. In effect, all the glass surfaces of the Discover are one multi-screen HUD.

Wide use of gesture control

Gesture control is a system that poses many questions, as the risk of unintended consequences is invariably raised, particularly if used for other than infotainment systems. Land Rover said its motion sensors are calibrated to recognize designated hand or finger movements. In addition to infotainment, they will be given such significant assignments as triggering turn signals, operating lights, even activating the rotary knob gearshift, as well as opening and closing doors and tailgate.

Interior seating is configurable, and there are infotainment screens on four of the seat backs. The basic arrangement is 2-3-2, but there are five other seating modes, as second and third rows slide and fold.

The Discovery concept's technology "suite" also includes laser headlamps, which are 10% the size of LEDs, so there is front-end design potential to be explored. The lamps—using laser-activated phosphor projection—are a next generation of primary night lighting. They have enormous range compared to conventional lamps, at over 300 m (984 ft), and the light itself is close to daylight, Land Rover said.

To prevent blinding drivers of oncoming cars, the laser lights will incorporate smart automatic dimming. That is, there will be high-definition cameras that detect and identify any oncoming traffic. A computer will dim the lights selectively to prevent blinding the oncoming drivers, while maintaining a beam that still provides good visibility.

The rear cargo area floor holds a "social seat" that deploys rearward to be used as a platform or for seating, including as an easy-to-clean surface on which to change clothing muddied after a day of off-road activity. Also available will be attachments for a bike/ski rack.

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