Men­tored by a McLaren

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - CRAIG DUFF

AU­TON­O­MOUS cars won’t spell the end of sports cars and could help track war­riors im­prove their lap times.

That’s the pre­dic­tion of McLaren Au­to­mo­tive de­sign direc­tor Frank Stephen­son, who has been in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of the BMW X5, Fiat 500 and Maserati MC12.

“Au­ton­o­mous driv­ing is com­ing and the car will be able to pre­dict and take over … so in a cer­tain sense that seems like it’s go­ing to de­flate the ex­pe­ri­ence of driv­ing a sports car,” he says at the launch of McLaren’s first stand-alone deal­er­ship in Rich­mond, Vic­to­ria.

“I don’t see it that way. I don’t think McLaren sees it that way.

“When you have an au­ton­o­mous driv­ing car you can use it in many dif­fer­ent ways. Ob­vi­ously the worst way for a sports car driver is for the car to do all the driv­ing — you might as well get a taxi or a bus.

“I see it as an ad­van­tage for our cus­tomers who are go­ing to a track day, for ex­am­ple, and the car can take you around for five laps and show you the best

brak­ing point, the best line, the best gearshift or what­ever so you learn, at what­ever speed you want, how to take on that best driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“When you take over the car can cor­rect you and ba­si­cally turn you into a bet­ter driver.”

Stephen­son also cites three emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies he ex­pects are “do-able” sooner rather than later:

Wiper-less wind­screens: “We can use a hy­per-fre­quency vi­bra­tion through the glass to re­move any dust or what­ever, so you won’t need wind­screen wipers in the fu­ture and should have a 100 per cent clean screen 100 per cent of the time”.

Chameleon cars: “The car is not re­ally painted but the pan­els al­low colour to be il­lu­mi­nated through a ma­te­rial. It gives you the op­tion of hav­ing a very colourful car one day and a con­ser­va­tive colour the next or chang­ing colour at night to im­prove vis­i­bil­ity.” Rein­vent­ing the wheel: “We’re look­ing at new wheel de­signs. Spokes, if you study it, is not the most ef­fi­cient way to de­sign a wheel — you don’t see a tree with straight roots com­ing out of it, they ac­tu­ally are very chaotic. We’re look­ing into or­ganic style wheel spokes … dy­namic bal­anc­ing is ob­vi­ously a con­cern but you can vary the thick­ness of the spokes and wheels be­come unique.”

Stephen­son’s in­ter­est in nat­u­ral so­lu­tions even ex­tends to de­tails on McLaren’s lat­est toy, the 675 LT. He cites the five bumps on the side mir­rors as an ex­am­ple of how na­ture can be ap­plied to car de­sign.

The ridges, em­u­lat­ing those on a sail­fish’s body where it meets the tail, were used to counter air vor­tices that were res­onat­ing through the side win­dows. “We put these five bumps on and the sound went away,” Stephen­son says. “That’s straight off a sail­fish.

“I hate the fact a lot of de­sign­ers look into the fash­ion world and look into ar­chi­tec­ture and fur­ni­ture for in­spi­ra­tion. Those are all very trendy in­spi­ra­tions, in one day and out the next, whereas the best — for me — and most in­tel­li­gent in­flu­ence is na­ture.

“It’s been around for­ever ... it is the best way to de­sign some­thing be­cause it lasts a long time. And it’s only there be­cause it works.”

McLaren de­signer Frank Stephen­son: An au­ton­o­mous car can “ba­si­cally turn you into a bet­ter driver”

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