Photo: Gregory Han

There is no category of cars which has changed so much in the last several decades as sport utility vehicles. What once began as utilitarian rugged automobiles designed to handle both on and off-road excursions is now increasingly expected to offer the latest in technological features with all the luxury conveniences of modern, urban lifestyles.

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David Saddington, Director of Interior Design of Land Rover, sat with Design Milk before the New York International Auto Show to share insights about the design and technology process that went behind the newly unveiled Discovery Vision Concept, a concept developed to convey and shape the future of the luxury SUV segment, while also previewing some of the automotive technologies which will dynamically change both driver and passenger experience in the luxury SUV market.

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Seat controls are all maneged via touchscreen menu, with the option for a standard seven-seat layout, or six-seat, five-seat or roomy four-seat ‘limousine’ mode. Detachable, carry-away stroller-style luggage is integrated into the Discovery Vision’s doors, with full-blown info-tainment displays for rear seated passengers. Photo: Gregory Han

As the chief designer of the MINI, designer of the first Land Rover Discovery 2 refresh in 2000, followed by Discovery 3 and 4, Saddington’s was the driving force behind the interior of the Range Rover Evoque. Saddington cites a lifelong love for airplanes, his engineering background, and a design education at Coventry University as the foundation of his design philosophy guiding the creation of luxuriously tactile and satisfyingly ergonomic interior spaces stitched seamlessly with technologies designed to satisfying discriminating luxury market customers.

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Augmented reality technology – Smart Glass – is designed to be viewable from around and above. Photo: Gregory Han

Design Milk: My understanding is this concept vehicle was designed to explore with a “the skies the limit” mentality. What then were some of the non-automotive inspirations the Land Rover team looked to when designing the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept which helped navigate into uncharted territories?

David Saddington: Footwear came up over and over during the design process with our team. Luxury fashion footwear…Leboutin shoes, specifically. The Discovery Vision’s seats are made from specially engineered leather using a tanning process working on a molecular level, resulting in a completely waterproof leather designed to withstand the rigors of an offroad vehicle, yet are supple enough for everyday use. This was all born from an appreciation for fashion.

Also my family has also become a big influence on the designs I create for Land Rover…noting where family members like to sit, how they move within the vehicle, and the rigors of use an everyday vehicle needs to withstand are all practical guidance.

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Design Milk: The Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept could be perceived as a drastic departure from what is considered a heritage brand, both in design and the array of technology inside the vehicle. Could you elaborate how you set to appease both long time customers, while also convincing a new generation of Land Rover buyers?

David Saddington: The Discovery Vision Concept is a fully exploratory challenge, not a preview of specific upcoming vehicle. But most of the technologies previewed are being actively tested and researched. Our research methodology is to look for sign posts communicated by current customers. Online and social media monitoring plays a part, but we also always remember to never underestimate to respect people’s first reactions are not always permanent. We believe the sooner we receive feedback, the better we can start shaping future vehicles.

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Design Milk: Considering this vehicle is an exploratory design and technology case study, what then should we expect to see in real world vehicles moving forward?

David Saddington: Everything we’ve previewed this week is in some form or another being tested and developed right now for future vehicles. Smart glass concepts and gesture control recognition are part of the concept vehicle…transparent OLED screens, side glass window displays…we’ve got a working unit of the transparent bonnet we’ve just previewed. Another [technology] is a removable remote control unit in the console – or used with a smart device and app – for parking in more difficult parking situations where it might benefit for the driver to step out of the vehicle to guide it through, for example, a gate.

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David Saddington: One of my favorite technologies is an overhead display which can virtually transform the view, from cloudy to blue skies. But these technologies on the drawing board right now won’t be out until 2018.

Thanks to David for the interview.

Despite the fanfare surrounding the reveal of the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept, we weren’t allowed access to the interior except at an arm’s length distance. Attendees were given a glimpse inside what was obviously a vehicle created as a “coming soon” proof of concept, with most technologies still in alpha or beta testing. Still, if even half of the announced technologies reach market, drivers should be enjoying a safer, more comfortable, and interactive drive, whether traveling on or offroad.

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Dr Wolfgang Epple, Director of Research and Technology, Jaguar Land Rover, outlining many of the fuel efficiency measures being researched to increase mileage in all Jaguar Land Rover vehicles.

Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept technologies:

    • Human-Machine Interface (HMI) technology, including video calls between passengers through the seat back info-tainment screens.
    • Smart Glass, augmented reality accessible to the entire glasshouse, viewable around and above passengers.
    • Gesture Control for use with various functions, including the doors, indicators, headlamps and seat back screens.
    • Remote Control Drive enables the driver to maneuver the car at very low speed while outside the vehicle.
    • Self monitoring and adjusting laser headlamps, with intelligent object tracking and beam-dipping to improve driver safety.
    • Terrain Response driving system.
    • Laser Referencing system which uses visible lasers to project markings, symbols and imagery onto ground surfaces.
    • Transparent Bonnet head-up display system offers an unimpeded view of the ground immediately ahead, greatly enhancing driver ability and confidence. Cameras fitted below the grille are paired with the Head-Up Display integrated into the windscreen. While traversing challenging terrain, the imagery can be projected onto the windscreen, so that it appears as if the vehicle’s bonnet is, in effect, transparent.

The Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept is the culmination of many technologies underway at Jaguar Land Rover, an unusual blue skies project which gives the heritage brand a wider diameter of design and technologies to work with when developing future vehicles. Of course, it will be interesting to see which of the following announced technologies actually make their way into future Defender, Freelander, Discovery, Range Rover Sport, and Range Rover/Range Rover Evoque models of tomorrow when earthly requirements require compromise or unforeseen detours.