Jeep, the first name in off-roading, just announced that it’s testing a method to make its vehicles more capable than ever before, just not in a way anyone was expecting.
The overlanding automaker revealed this week that it’s been developing “automated off-road driving technology,” something that would take the trend of autonomous driving systems beyond the highways they’re usually meant for and place them in the untamed wild.
But why? That’s the first question sure to pop into many people’s heads. First off, let’s recognize why we’re attracted to off-road vehicles in the first place. The main reason is they tease us with the possibility of adventure. Their superior traversal abilities over a mere commuter car flood our minds with images of escaping the daily rigamarole and surmounting natural obstacles as we venture to discover what lies beyond the horizon.
It’s a fantasy Jeep has been capitalizing on for decades and, to its credit, the company backs it up by building vehicles capable of stepping up to the challenge when actually put to the test. Why would it seemingly compromise that with autonomous driving? Would you buy a sports car that promised to do all the hot laps for you?
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With the knee-jerk reactions out of the way, what’s being developed here is more of what Jeep owners like: potential.
Jeep’s statement and quick teaser video hints at what’s possible for both newcomers and those experienced at going off-grid. The clip shows test vehicles equipped with cameras and what look like sensor pods and antennas. This makes us think the hardware can scan the land ahead in real time and, with GPS mapping, plot the most viable path. This could help keep new off-road drivers out of tricky situations and possibly help them get un-stuck when that’s unavoidable.
The video also shows one Jeep recognizing a lead vehicle, which would be a handy way for seasoned overlanders to guide groups along more treacherous routes than what they may be used to. Neda Cvijetic, the head of AI and autonomous driving at Stellantis (Jeep’s parent company), can also be seen using a tablet to direct a Grand Cherokee 4xe up an escarpment from outside of the vehicle. If you’ve ever had to coax a truck over particularly unwelcoming terrain, you’ll know that sometimes a spotter is needed to tell the driver things like where to put their wheels and how to shift the vehicle’s weight. This supposes that, with this new tech, you can be your own spotter.
Like any other good automaker, Jeep builds on what its vehicles do best while keeping up to date with the latest technology. A perfect example of this is its “4xe” (that’s “four-by-Eee”) line of plug-in hybrids, versions of the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee. For these, Jeep uniquely adapted range-extending tech for the trail, where extra mileage and all-electric cruising bring different benefits and experiences.
Autonomous systems would be no different. Just as the current batch of driver assistance systems on road cars aren’t full self-driving, what Jeep is working on wouldn’t be “self-overlanding” by any stretch. It would be yet another tool for off-roaders to play with. And if Jeep owners love anything more than adventure, it’s extra tools.
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