Mentored by a McLaren
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”