Just in case there was any residual doubt whatsoever, let me remind everyone: I’m an idea man. Got it? Ideas, right after urine and feces, that’s my body’s most quantitative output, and occasionally even the highest quality. I recently went rock crawling in a Jeep Gladiator on the famous Rubicon Trail, and that experience gave me some new—dare I say disruptive—ideas about how to improve the vehicular rock crawling experience. So prepare yourself.
The first major innovation is designed to help with this aspect of driving over very rocky terrain:
See that guy standing there? He’s a spotter. Jeep, not wanting their fleet of shiny new Gladiators to be all dented and high-centered on boulders by inexperienced, overconfident journalists like my own dumb self, wisely hired spotters to help guide the driver to find the best way over the rough terrain.
Mostly what the spotters are doing is telling you where to position your wheels. You want, somewhat counterintuitively, to get your wheels on the largest rocks, so you can keep the belly of your rock crawling rig from getting stuck on anything.
The problem is that from inside the car, it’s often quite difficult to gauge exactly where your wheels are at any given moment, especially when you may be needing to place them fairly precisely on, say, a four-inch plateau of rock.
The spotter, with their vantage point outside the car, can see everything, and can guide you.
But what if you have no spotter? What if you’re driving over this sort of terrain alone?
Well, if your vehicle has a front camera system, like this one in the Gladiator, it can help, especially since it overlays your wheel’s path on the screen image of the terrain.
This is helpful, but it’s not the same as the view you have out the window, and you can’t really drive by looking at this screen; if only there was some way to get those very useful markers of your wheel path and position out the view from your windshield!
And that’s where I come in! Because I think there is a way to do this, and like with any good way to do things, it involves lasers.
The sort of lasers I’m thinking of aren’t the exotic kind; they’re more like the laser-pointer kind, or the kind that are used on circular saws so you can see a nice glowing line where you’re supposed to cut. This isn’t exotic tech, it’s the sort of thing you can get on a $50 circular saw.
My plan is that there would be a pair of these line-drawing lasers mounted on each front fender of your Jeep (or similar rock crawler). The laser emitters would be on motorized pivots that get the steering angle from the car’s ECU and moves the lasers in sync with the wheels—the exact same way the overlaid wheel tracks are drawn over the front camera video feed.
This would allow the driver to see exactly where the wheels are pointing, with the vector of the wheel line extended a distance ahead of the Jeep, so the driver can plot the ideal path over the terrain.
The lasers move in real time with the wheels, so adjustments can be seen instantly, and the best path can be picked across really challenging, technical terrain, even without a spotter.
I suppose if you really wanted to get fancy each emitter unit could have three lasers, one for the centerline and one for each edge of the tire, and you could adjust it for width, but I think just the centerline would likely be enough.
There’s really no exotic technology here, it could be easily run off the car’s normal 12V power, and it should be the kind of thing that could be a simple bolt-on aftermarket kit. Who wants to go into business?
Now, my next idea is a little more bonkers, but I think it has the potential to prevent a lot of a certain kind of accident that can happen while rock crawling. Specifically, this kind of accident:
Yes, the dreaded unwanted back flip of doom. This type of wreck happens more often than you’d think, and has the potential to be quite dangerous, as you can see.
I think it would be possible to have an emergency system that could prevent this from happening, and I don’t even think it needs to be that complex. What I’m imagining is a device that could bolt on the front of a Jeep, would be self-contained and effectively automatic. And it involves rockets.
Here’s what I’m thinking: imagine a bracket that houses one or more small solid-fuel rockets, set in place with their exhaust nozzles pointing up, and an ignitor system triggered by a simple integrated gyroscope, similar to the sorts of things used in video game motion controllers.
When the gyro senses an angle beyond some pre-set limit (something approaching 75 degrees or so?) it triggers the rockets, which fire, pushing down on the front end of the Jeep to bring it back to the ground on its wheels.
Here, let me show you in pictures:
Now, I haven’t yet done the math on just how much thrust these rockets would need, but I don’t think it’s really all that much. Remember, we’re not trying to lift the Jeep here, we just want to give a nice solid push on the front of the Jeep to tip the balance from pitching over backwards to dropping that nose down so the car lands on its wheels instead of its roof.
In fact, I bet a few of the larger model rocket motor sizes would be enough to make this work. The unit could simply have holders for, say four or so G-sized rocket motors, and every time it’s used, you simply remove the spent motors and replace them with new ones. You could carry a bunch with you on your trip, so you can have this safeguard in place every time you tackle a really steep slope.
Plus, I bet it’ll be exciting as hell to see this thing in action!
If anyone has a rock crawling Jeep and is willing to help us test this out, I bet we can get some really exciting video out of it. Just let me know.
So, there you go. Two new big ideas to revolutionize rock crawling. As always, OEMs and go-getters of all sorts, if you want to make these ideas happen, you know where to find me.