Imagine walking along a steep mountain pass. The track is narrow, and each step is treacherous. Your feet need to be in the best position, and you have to constantly check the quality of the ground you're stepping on to know how much power you can use to push off.
Now imagine doing that while carrying a lot more weight and without being able to see the ground directly in front of you. Scary, right? When you're driving an off-road vehicle, that's pretty much what's happening. Off-road drivers need to place their wheels precisely and know exactly what kind of terrain they're on, but the pesky engine compartment and hood are always in the way. That's where the Land Rover invisible hood comes in.
While many people associate the Land Rover brand with pure luxury, and, yes, it's true that some Land Rover drivers don't take their SUVs through anything more rugged than a puddle, the company's off-road heritage is well established. Land Rover has created vehicles for the British Army and developed some of the most advanced off-road systems and capable vehicles in the world. So while a Land Rover's interior is probably nicer than the inside of your house, it's not just designed for showing off. At its core, a Land Rover is built to get people as far away from civilization as possible.
But, safety first: To travel far away from civilization and off the beaten path, you need to know where your SUV's wheels are, just like you need to be able to see your feet to hike safely. For many off-roaders, a hood that lets you see through the car's engine bay and directly to the road below and in front of you is just what the doctor ordered.
Why Land Rover?
Many people think of Land Rovers as just luxury vehicles. They're not totally wrong: The least-expensive Land Rover offered in the United States starts at $36,000, and prices of fully-loaded models can easily top $100,000 [source: Land Rover Consumer]. Though Land Rovers may be the vehicle of choice for the royal family of Great Britain and the second wives of American investment bankers, for many owners, Land Rover's appeal goes beyond real-wood trim, decadent leather, cooled drink consoles and 500 horsepower engines. First and foremost, Land Rovers are built to be off-roading machines. The coddling seats (with optional massage) are just the icing on the cake.
The first Land Rover was built in 1948 by the Rover Company. Back then, Land Rover wasn't an entire vehicle brand; it was just one model of car that the company made. Created by Maurice Wilks to be as useful as a tractor, but as capable on-road as it was off, the Land Rover was inspired by the original Willys Jeep. In fact, early iterations of the Land Rover used a Willys Jeep with a Rover engine and gearbox. Wanting something more rugged than the Jeep (which, by the way, had just proved itself supremely capable in WWII, so it's not like Wilks was trying to build a better off-road car than a VW Beetle), Wilks decided to build a new off-road model from the ground up [source: Hackett].
The original Land Rover was bare bones. It had little sound-deadening material, no power steering, no power brakes and full-time four-wheel drive. It could even run farm equipment from a power take-off on its rear. Now, take a moment and try to imagine a wealthy blonde woman in yoga pants using her Land Rover Range Rover Sport to plow a field. Tough to picture, right? Nevertheless, that's the ancestor of one of the most luxurious cars on the road today.
Before you start researching which Land Rover you want to use to run your farm, you'll probably want to learn more about the Land Rover invisible hood feature. After all, if you're actually going to use a $100,000 SUV to pull a manure spreader, you'll want to know what the terrain in front of you is like.
Why an invisible hood?
The Land Rover invisible hood (the company officially calls it the Transparent Bonnet, because that's how them-there-folks talk in England) debuted on the Land Rover Discovery Vision Concept vehicle at the 2014 New York International Auto Show [source: Land Rover Debuts]. To understand why an invisible hood is important for off-roading, you're going to need an oversized shirt and a pillow. Pregnant women, and guys who enjoy beer, can just use their bellies.
OK, put on the giant shirt and stuff a pillow under it. Now stand up. If you can still see your feet and the area directly in front of them, you need a bigger pillow. Not being able to see your feet or the ground just in front of them isn't a big deal when you're walking on an even floor. It's not like you walk around your house looking down, after all. The ground is smooth and level, so muscle memory just takes over. That's like driving on a paved road. You can see at a glance that the surface is smooth, so you can just drive over it. As long as you keep your wheels on the road surface, you're fine.
Now, take your giant pillow/beer/baby belly outside and attempt to walk over some uneven ground. It's not so easy, is it? When we walk over rough terrain, we automatically look down. We need to see what we're getting into. When you can't see what you're about to step on, it makes getting around much more difficult.
At least when you're walking and can't see, you can use your feet to feel the terrain. You also might try craning your neck around the curve of your belly. In a car or SUV, however, these aren't really options. As anyone who has ever had to drive a car up on ramps or down an icy dirt road can tell you, not being able to see what your wheels are about to come in contact with is tough. In fact, when you're crawling along mountain roads and over boulders, it's downright terrifying. One wrong move and you could injure or kill yourself — not to mention that Land Rover repairs aren't cheap.
For all these reasons (and more), a Land Rover with an invisible hood is a pretty handy thing to have. Next, we'll talk about what makes the invisible hood, well, invisible.
How it's Done
Being able to see through your car's hood is actually pretty simple. First, be born on the dying planet Krypton and have your parents send you to Earth, where our yellow sun will give you superpowers. Failing that, have some sort of accident in a science lab that results in you gaining x-ray vision.
The Land Rover invisible hood works with cameras and a heads-up display in the windshield. Cameras are mounted in the Land Rover Discovery Vision's grille. The images those cameras capture are then projected onto a heads-up display on the car's windshield. The effect is such that when you look down through the windshield, the hood is blocked by the display, effectively disappearing because the ground below it is projected on top of it.
With the invisible hood, the driver has a much clearer view of where the wheels are, which makes climbing a steep incline or nosing along a thin trail much easier. The technology has less rugged uses too: It makes turning into a small space, say a garage, much easier. This means that the blonde in the yoga pants will be far less likely to hit her husband's golf clubs when she pulls into the garage, because the car will no longer block her view of the ground directly in front of her.
The invisible hood is just one more system that Land Rover offers to make off-roading easier. Not only do all Land Rovers have systems that change how the vehicle reacts to various driving surfaces, but they also have available camera systems that let their drivers see what all four wheels are up to. The invisible hood is special, however, because it projects the image on the car's windshield, so the driver doesn't have to turn and look at a video display. Land Rover also has off-road systems that automatically control the brakes and throttle when driving down a steep hill, making any off-road journey safer, and allowing anyone, even the Queen of England, to look like an off-road pro.
While Land Rover hasn't announced any plans yet to bring the invisible hood to production, it's an interesting idea — and one that may appeal to people beyond off-roaders. After all, lots of people scoffed at backup cameras, too, and now it's been proven that they help reduce the likelihood of serious accidents [source: IIHS]. Land Rovers are big SUVs, and it can be tough to see what's directly in front of you when driving one. An invisible hood could prevent people from unintentionally driving over a small child. And, at the very least, it might make parking a lot easier.
Author's Note: How the Land Rover Invisible Hood Works
Land Rovers are some of my favorite cars, and each time I test-drive one, I am struck by how complex and smart they've become. Just dial-in the kind of conditions you're facing, and the SUV takes care of it. What's striking about the invisible hood, however, is how simple it is. Ask me to explain hill descent control, and I'm going to need several hundred words to do it. The invisible hood? It's just cameras and a display. Makes me wonder why no one ever thought of it before.
- Bloomberg. "See Through Your Hood Driving Next-Gen Land Rover." April 16, 2014. (Oct. 27, 2014) http://www.bloomberg.com/video/see-through-your-hood-driving-next-gen-land-rover-8h1XnLdFQTCRkXRM1w_xYQ.html
- Bort, Julie. "Land Rover Has Invented a 'Transparent' Car." Business Insider. April 9, 2014. (Oct. 27, 2014) http://www.businessinsider.com/land-rover-invented-a-disappearing-hood-2014-4
- George, Alexander. "Land Rover's New Invention Lets You See Through Your Car's Hood." Wired. April 9, 2014. (Oct. 27, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2014/04/land-rover-invisible-hood/
- Hackett, Kevin. "Land Rover: The Sands of Time." The Telegraph. March 28, 2008. (Dec. 31, 2014) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/2751397/Land-Rover-The-sands-of-time.html
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). "Rearview Camera Rule Aims to Reduce Backover Crashes." May 29, 2014. (Dec. 31, 2014) http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/49/4/4
- Jaguar/Land Rover USA. "Land Rover Consumer Website." (Dec. 31, 2014) http://www.landroverusa.com/index.html
- Jaguar/Land Rover USA. "Land Rover Debuts 'See-Through' Virtual Imaging Technology in Discovery Vision Concept." April 9, 2014. (Oct. 27, 2014) http://newsroom.jaguarlandrover.com/en-in/land-rover/news/2014/04/lr_dvc_tease_technology_090414/
- McCarthy, A.J. "Land Rover Unveils Transparent Hood, Wins Over Sci-Fi Fans Everywhere." Slate. April 9, 2014. (Oct. 27, 2014) http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/04/09/land_rover_transparent_bonnet_invisible_hood_from_land_rover_revealed_prior.html