Under-fire Land Rover proves that it can over-endow in tech terms
Over the past few months, Land Rover has responded to its critics by introducing the remarkable new Defender, highlights Iain Robertson, which is armed with advanced technology that more than justifies the time it took for the range to come to market.
Connectivity is the current buzzword around the entire motor industry but it may surprise you to know that the latest and long-awaited Land Rover Defender now leads the entire market, with its dual-modem, dual-eSIM technology. For a class of vehicle that will find itself in outlying parts of the world, frequently many miles off the beaten track, the Defender boasts not one but two Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 820Am Automotive Platforms, each with an integrated Snapdragon X12 modem.
Appreciating that much of this is gobbledy-gook, unless you happen to be an IT specialist, which I am not, let it be stated that the latest Defender is not going to leave you in a loss-of-communications lurch. In fact, if getting away from it all is your primary intention, your ever-dependable Landy will ensure that being away is seldom far enough. You may well curse its connectivity!
Proving that the new Defender is very much a 21st Century machine, its integrated hardware can download ‘software-over-the-air’ (SOTA) updates, without annoying interruptions, all the while streaming music and apps through the company’s latest Pivi-Pro infotainment system, which is sure to keep keypad tappers in critical form. In total, its 16 electronic modules can be updated anywhere in the world, supported by CloudCar technology (another ‘first’ for the company that is sure to please adventurers) that provides personalisation, up-to-the-minute content and other services besides. Unsurprisingly, as more SOTA modules come online, by the end of 2021, access to over 45 alternatives should become available. Bear in mind that this is in addition to a comprehensive suite of driver support systems (developed mostly by Bosch) that includes the 3D surround camera system to aid a driver’s off-road progress, you see, you just cannot get away from it.
Featuring ‘always-on and always-connected’ services, the Pivi-Pro set-up, which has its own battery, sits at the heart of the Defender’s cabin and its 10.0-inch, high-resolution touchscreen allows users to control all aspects of the vehicle with the same processing hardware as the latest smartphones, which will come as a remarkable sense of relief for tech-heads. In addition, customers can connect two mobile devices to the infotainment head unit at once, using Bluetooth, so the driver and one passenger can enjoy hands-free, digital functionality at the same time, without a need to swap connections; a divorce avoidance manoeuvre, if ever there were one! It is suggested by Land Rover (naturally) that its operation is not dissimilar to that of the human brain, with one aspect looking after logic, while the other caters for creative tasks. Be still my beating heart!
The Snapdragon 820Am Automotive Platform delivers performance and technology integration that is designed to support highly advanced telematics, infotainment and digital clusters. It is said to deliver rich, immersive and seamless connected in-vehicle experiences, while making next-generation vehicles even more connected, smart and contextually aware, if that is really your bag. With its power-efficient CPU cores and state-of-the-art GPU performance, together with integrated machine learning and powerful video processing capabilities, the Snapdragon Platform is designed to provide unrivalled connected in-car experiences, including responsive interfaces, immersive 4K graphics, high-definition media streaming and immersive audio.
As if that were insufficient, a pair of X12 LTE modems provide parallel high-bandwidth downlink and uplink connectivity across multiple networks, with ultra-fast connectivity and lower latency for secure, reliable communications. In addition, the X12 modem features an integrated global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and something completely new even for the most tech-savvy, ‘automotive dead reckoning’, which has the effect of increasing the vehicle’s capability to keep track of its location and position with significant accuracy. Of course, heading off the beaten track in the Defender may make its owner grateful for this latter function, especially if straying into war zones, yomping across Iceland, or negotiating the immensely confusing back streets of Manchester. However, should you be captured, you could be providing all of this technology free of charge to ISIS, a factor worth bearing in mind.
On the quality front and certified to the highest level of ISO 26262, ASIL D, the QNX operating system, provides additional peace of mind to Defender users, as if they had not been bamboozled enough. The first ASIL D-certified QNX Hypervisor for Safety ensures the multiple Operating Systems (OS) powering the safety-critical factors (for example, the vehicle’s body domain control) are isolated from non-safety critical systems (such as infotainment). This is vital to ensuring that compromised systems, or those requiring updates, will not impact on driving functions, regardless of how heavily laden with jargon they might be. Land Rover has specified safety-certified, secure and reliable embedded software, in using BlackBerry QNX technology, employed by top carmakers for their advanced driver assistance, digital instrument clusters, connectivity modules, hands-free and infotainment systems. In other words, you can still blast out ‘boombox’ grade bass notes, without interfering with the Defender’s stability control, which may prove to have useful diversionary value, while negotiating the world’s most dangerous roads.
Versions of this technology will be meted out to the rest of the JLR range in the very near future but, avoiding ‘tech-geekery’, where JLR could have been accused of ‘falling behind’, it is now very much on the leading edge, a factor that is hoped will help immeasurably in the overall recovery of the company, which is also being aided by a fresher approach to both the design and engineering of its models.
Conclusion: I make no apology for taking the Mickey out of Land Rover’s wondrously advanced electronic ephemera. Unless you are a ‘super-geek’ and find those technical details totally absorbing, the vast majority of Defender buyers will be happy if the stereo works and the digital screens do not flicker and that would be ‘on-road’. Unless your name is Blashford-Snell, or you truly care about it, perhaps exercising the ultimate veto by not switching it on might be the best course of action.