Maybe Autonomous Vehicles Don't Have to Look Like Steaming Sacks of Garbage

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
maybe autonomous vehicles em dont em have to look like steaming sacks of garbage

Thank God we don’t have to look at that Google self-driving car anymore. You know the one — shaped like an unhappy egg wearing a little hat? That one. The one that inspired visions of a future where life is so sterile and miserable that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine masses of people throwing themselves on the road in front of these pod-like commuting appliances.

Still, even as self-driving technology advances, we’re treated to concept vehicles that don’t exactly stir the soul. Some recent designs deserve kudos, but many still resemble motor pool rejects from A Clockwork Orange, terrifying gearheads and libertarians alike.

It doesn’t have to be that way, claims one automotive supplier. You can have your sexy car and still tell it to drive you around.

Magna International, the Canadian supplier of just about everything, is eager to field its autonomous driving suite — a bundle of ultrasonic sensors, lidar, radar, and associated computer system that can be affixed to ordinary vehicles without raising suspicions that the vehicle plans to take our freedom.

To prove how subtle the bundle can be, last fall the company placed the sensors on a decidedly brawny Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.

Thanks to Jeep’s need to suck plenty of air, there’s no shortage of grille in which to hide a center-mounted, forward-facing radar. Four lidar sensors conceal themselves in special black trim strips Magna applied to all four corners of the vehicle, while another sensor lurks inconspicuously in the lower fascia. No rooftop sensor array, no dome, no little chapeau.

“I think one of the discussions that seems to be out there in society is, as we move towards these more autonomous (vehicles), will the character of the automobile go away? … People are not going to give up wanting their cars to look the way they look,” Larry Erickson, global director of Magna’s exteriors design group, told WardsAuto.

The Grand Cherokee, outfitted for Level 4 autonomous driving and appropriately named the MAX4, uses a matte black thermoplastic to cover the corner lidars, but it won’t always be that way, Erickson said.

“At this point lidar requires a different surface finish to project through, whereas the radar in the upper area (of the corner is) a little bit more flexible so it’s going through a painted surface,” Erickson explained, adding, “I think on just about any vehicle you can incorporate the sensors and not change what was the original (design) intent.”

Magna displayed the self-driving Jeep at the recent Eyes on Design event held near Detroit. The company hopes automakers take notice. Magna’s self-driving array is the hardware it wants the industry to buy when, and if, Level 4 driving becomes commonplace. Earlier this year, Magna invested $200 million into Lyft as part of a partnership that will see it develop self-driving systems for the ride-hailing company. Magna secured an equity stake out of the deal.

Just last month, Magna teamed with May Mobility to build the company’s electric autonomous shuttles, which it hopes to launch in the downtown cores of major U.S. cities.

[Images: Joe Ross/ Flickr ( CC BY-SA 2.0), Magna]

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  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Jul 11, 2018

    Like Asimov's Sally... you only need a positronic brain that fits into the glovebox.

  • Bkojote Bkojote on Jul 11, 2018

    There are times when I think car culture projects its inner insecurities as snark and Steph (that's a girl's name btw) seems to embody it. It's like everything from autonomous cars to electrification questions his ability to pass on his genetic material. The Google Self Driving car was hardly my favorite design but I can appreciate anything that tries to be different rather than the typical 'mad fish face' we see on everything from a Hyundai Elantra to a Camry. I'll give it credit- it was offbeat and cute. Car guys seem to crab everything different is ugly (while rocking a janky Accord Coupe but that's ok because its spirit animal is the E36) but then bemoan the lack of something fun and fresh.

  • Tassos I hope y'all had a happy Thanksgiving. To answer the question, my present car is almost Ideal for such road trips, but I can think of an even better one, which has the same awesome engine in a bigger, far more luxurious vehicle.OK, let's THINK, what kind of car is best for such a trip? NOT a 911 or a Corvette, not a Body-on-frame pickup truck or SUV. It has to be a LONG vehicle, and most importantly, with a LONG WHEELBASE. It should be quite heavy so it is comfortable (in addition to the always nice to have passive safety). It should be powerful but frugal, with today's ridiculous gas prices. It should be LUXURIOUS so when you get out of it after 12 hours of driving, to feel as rested and relaxed as when you started the trip. So naturally the best candidates are FLAGSHIP LUXURY SEDANS with the above attributes. What are the best ones to choose? A 2007-2012 Lexus 460 LS would be hard to refuse, and is very reliable to boot. (in 2012 they ruined its grille), but is poor in other chores (handling, poor steering feel etc). A BMW 7 series, like the MAGNIFICENT 1998 740iL with its adequate 4.4 lt V8 and its 282 HP and 300+ LBFT torque was also an excellent cruiser AS WELL as a great (as if on rails!) Handling car, with plenty of features and luxury fit for a king inside (plus they had facrtory GPS as early as 1998, which Merc Did not then!), but it is not as reliable as you would like. I owned one from 2005 to 2017, almost 20 years old and 150k miles at the end, when I donated it. My current car is just perfect for this job, being a GLORIOUS DIESEL Merc E 320 Bluetec 2007 (I also have a 2008 twin!), it gets 35-37 MPG on long trips, which offsets the ridiculous current Diesel prices, AND its 21 Gallon tank gives you 700-800 MILES OF RANGE, so you can fill up at the lowest cost stations at your convenience. COmpared with the BMW 7 V8, its V6 actually gives you about the3 same performance at half the MPG!! Because the HP may be less (208 vs 282) BUT the TOrque can only be matched by AMG gas versions, the E55 AMG, at over 400 LBFT.If you want a little better than the above AWESOME choice, try the S350 Bluetec Diesel, 2010-2013 models. THere are very few Diesels sold in the US, so you may have to drive 4 hours to buy yours (as I had to do with both of mine), BUT it is REALLY WORTH IT.BTW, the extra benefit of the diesel MErcs, they are THE MOST RELIABLE VEHICLES I EVER DROVE, and I had plenty of Hondas and other alleged reliable cars in the past. TWO diesels, owned from 2016 and 2017, and NOTHING went wrong with them except ROUTINE Maintenance, brake pad replacement, new set of tires, NO FAILURES OF ANY KIND!If you have experienced these outstanding cruisers, tell us what you think. If NOT, try them!
  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
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