Auto Tech

How future Jaguars, Land Rovers will help drivers avoid a close shave

Future Jaguar Land Rover models will help keep you from inadvertently shearing bikes and kayaks off your roof rack.

The other day, my newly kayak-obsessed son left his boat strapped to the roof of his car overnight. A whopper of a rainstorm hit in the wee hours, and he woke up to about 10 gallons of water filling up his pride and joy. After de-aquariumizing his pride and joy with a wet/dry vac, he promptly placed a cockpit seal on his shopping list.

Jaguar Land Rover may not have a solution for this type of kayak gaffe, but it wouldn't surprise me to learn it's working on one soon. After all, the British luxury concern is already developing a new technology called Overhead Clearance Assist, and it's designed to keep absent-minded drivers from shearing kayaks and bikes off their roof racks, as well as avoid tagging low-hanging branches on trails.

OCA is a co-development project with German supplier Bosch, and I recently had the chance to sample a running prototype at JLR's UK proving grounds in Gaydon. It's exactly the sort of technology I like: Simple, practical and based on the idea of repurposing hardware that's already in the car, so it neatly adds functionality without incurring much in the way of cost, complexity or weight penalties.

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Jaguar's new entry-level XE is fitted with an early prototype version of Overhead Clearance Assist.

Jaguar Land Rover

In OCA's case, that means leveraging the stereo camera mounted top, dead center on the windshield, a piece of equipment normally used for the lane-departure-warning tech, emergency auto brake and road-sign-recognition systems. For OCA duty, the stereo camera scans the road ahead up to 30 meters away -- nearly 100 feet -- for overhead obstructions. The system can measure how far the potential threats are off the ground, then compare that number to the vehicle's height.

At the moment, Overhead Clearance Assist is still quite manual, meaning that the driver needs to not only remember to use the system, he or she also needs to know the vehicle's total height (including whatever extreme lifestyle toys are bungeed up top), inputing the latter measurement into the system using the central infotainment touchscreen. That's cumbersome, but remember, this is an early iteration of the system. At present, there are shortcut icons for Standard, Bike and Roof Box, but it'd be easy enough to add heights for things like kayaks, as well.

And the system isn't just useful on-road. When it comes to navigating the off-road trails Land Rover models are famous for, OCA remains vigilant, keeping its electronic eyes open for paint-gouging tree branches and overhead rocky outcroppings, whether you've got something strapped to the roof or not.

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Overhead Clearance Assist can save expensive paint from low-hanging branches... or random boards.

Jaguar Land Rover

For now, OCA is a largely independent function, but it's easy to see how other vehicle systems could be integrated to increase its utility and safety. OCA could be tied to the vehicle's auto-brake system, for instance, so if a particularly dimwitted driver failed to heed its warnings, it could autonomously engage the brakes to prevent an expensive lesson with a low overhead garage door.

On Land Rovers equipped with variable-height air suspensions, perhaps the system could automatically lower the chassis to clear objects.

It's also easy to foresee a range of Bluetooth-enabled smart roof racks being developed that can tell what is being clipped in to them, automatically notifying OCA of their new height.

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Screen shows car height, closing speed and clearance difference between overhead objects and vehicle.

Jaguar Land Rover

Industry applications outside of JLR are easy to envision, too. Every year, local news feeds are peppered with stories about oblivious tractor-trailer and bus drivers scraping the roofs off their rigs on low overhead bridges, peeling them open like sardine cans and endangering the lives of fellow motorists. As stereo cams improve and can see further down the road, it's easy to imagine Bosch marketing a system like this to commercial truck manufacturers.

JLR officials I spoke with wouldn't provide a timetable on when this system will hit production, but given that it doesn't require additional hardware, it seems like a safe bet to come to market within a couple of years.

Now, about that Kayak Rainfall-Fill Warning tech...