Remote control a Land Rover with an iPhone like James Bond (pictures)

I use an iPhone to drive a Land Rover, let a steering wheel scan my brain and see more great tech that's coming to your future car.

Andrew Lanxon
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Andrew Lanxon
1 of 13 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This top-of-the-range Land Rover is rolling over obstacles with no one behind the wheel. It's the man standing outside the car that's in control, and he's using his iPhone to remotely drive.

A remote control 4x4 is just one piece of new technology that engineering researchers are working on at Jaguar Land Rover's testing ground near Warwick, England.

I popped along to find out why you'd want to drive a car using your phone, why your steering wheel needs to scan your brain and why your car seat cares how stressed you are.

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Controlling such a massive -- not to mention expensive -- car with an iPhone may seem like a recipe for disaster, but there are very good reasons for doing so. For example, when driving a 4x4 like this over difficult terrain, it's important for the driver to carefully analyse the road ahead and gauge whether his ride can make it over.

Instead of having to lean out of the window, or keep getting out of the car, he can enable phone control, stand outside the car and safely guide it along.

It's also handy for gates -- whether you're a farmer going through many gates a day, or a homeowner with a locked drive -- as you don't need to keep getting out to open and close the gate. Instead, just get out once to open the gate and drive the car through.

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I'm now a passenger in a vehicle being controlled by a guy several feet away using an iPhone. Yes, it feels very weird to be inside the car.

Note the level of the ground outside the window -- from the inside, obstacles you're driving over often appear to be much bigger than they really are.

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The app to control the car is similar to ones you may have used to operate small, radio-controlled toy cars. The main difference now is that you're moving a couple of tons of expensive metal.

For safety reasons, the car will only drive at a maximum of 4 mph, so don't expect to race around a track from the stands.

It's very much in the prototype stages right now, and like all the tech featured here, won't come into cars for at least another 5-10 years, if not longer.

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The technology detects pot holes in the road ahead. Not only will that allow the car to automatically adjust its suspension to reduce the risk of damage to the wheels, but it can also record the precise size and location of the pothole too.

It can then share that information with other road users and local councils, who can then decide which roads need the most attention.

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How much innovation can there be in accelerator pedals? Well, these are fitted with haptic feedback (like the small vibrations you might feel in your phone when you press buttons) and pulse to send you information.

According to Land Rover, its main benefit will be to alert you to things passing near the car -- such as cyclists in your blind spot -- and could be more effective than warnings on a screen or audio alerts that you might miss.

"There are over 19,000 incidents a year involving bikes. We're hoping our research can help reduce that number," Land Rover explained.

The haptic pedal could also alert drivers to other factors such as a change in speed limits or if the car feels you're about to fall asleep -- something I'll come to later.

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The haptic pedal worked well in my test drive. Its various styles of vibration and pulsing were easily noticeable, even through my shoes. I can certainly see this being a helpful addition to a car.

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Land Rover isn't just researching new tech to put inside the car, it's also investigating new technology for the manufacturing process.

This virtual reality suit lets the team assess production facilities to see how new models can be produced most efficiently.

While wearing the suit, engineers can mimic the movements of real factory workers, to see how far they can realistically stretch into the car's engine bay or inside the wheel arch. If they find a particular movement is awkward or uncomfortable -- particularly for shorter employees -- they can develop different manufacturing methods or even change the layout of the car before it goes into production.

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It wouldn't be a tech demo without an appearance from Oculus Rift. Here, it's used as part of a virtual car setup. Every part of this rig, from the seats and pedals to the steering wheel and floor, can be adjusted to match existing models, or to develop optimal layouts for future cars.

With the VR headset on, engineers can see the interior of the car in a variety of different environments. From this, they can work out a range of factors including wing mirror height and seat spacing, without having to build costly prototypes.

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Embedded in this little steering wheel are sensors that can pick up a range of brain waves, particularly those associated with attention.

The hope is that by being able to sense when your attention isn't properly on the road ahead -- perhaps due to fatigue or distractions inside the car -- the car can use audio alerts, or the haptic peddles, to bring your attention back to the road.

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Similarly, this demo car has a seat laced with sensors that monitor your heart rate and breathing, to estimate how tired or stressed you are and adjust the car accordingly.

If it senses your heart rate is high, for example (perhaps after a nasty bout of road rage) it could change the mood lighting inside the car and play relaxing music. If it senses you're in danger of falling asleep, it could circulate cold air, or suggest that you pull over to stop.

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By using 3D sensors, this regular tablet has been equipped with predictive touch. Over time, the system learns which buttons you're likely to tap and when, allowing it to anticipate and select options such as volume or destination when your finger is still several inches from the display.

By using this predictive technology, your on-screen selections are registered faster, giving you more time to pay attention to the road instead of the console. In fact, Land Rover reckons that in its trials so far, it has reduced the time when the driver's eyes are off the road by 22 percent.

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External sensors on the car are a big focus for the team. By equipping vehicles with Lidar (radar that uses invisible light), the cars are able to detect objects all around them with much higher precision than is currently available.

As well as being able to detect passing vehicles and bikes, it is also able to see oncoming objects in the road, even through rain and fog, making driving considerably safer.

"If we can give you that superhuman vision, that's a huge benefit to the driver," explained Situational Awareness Leader Paul Widdowson.

The problem is that Lidar systems are currently extremely expensive -- around £100,000 for a good one -- so it won't be appearing in vehicles any time soon.

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