Shape-shifting bodywork, light-emitting panels and water-repellent windscreens are just some of the technologies we can expect on future cars, McLaren design director Frank Stephenson told The Motor Report this week.
Not content with the status quo, the 53 year-old American-born Stephenson is pushing the boundaries of science to incorporate the latest advancements into McLaren’s cars.
Speaking with TMR, Stephenson described the concepts McLaren is investigating when designing forthcoming models. One of his goals is to do away with the humble windscreen wiper.
“Wipers are one of the oldest things on a car that haven’t really made much advancement over the years,” Stephenson said.
“It’s only a little piece of rubber slipping across a windscreen. You’re adding weight, and because of the wiper fluid you have to fill up the bottle with, it all weighs quite a bit. Getting rid of the wiper means less parts and less weight.”
So what about nanotechnology? Stephenson notes that hydrophobic coatings must be reapplied on a regular basis. It is a costly and fiddly way to maintain water-repellent properties. The solution?
“I went up to a military air research facility, which I of course can’t say much about to find out more about hydrophobic technology and how it could be used on cars," Stephenson said.
You never see fighter planes with windscreen wipers on them. Yet they can’t have anything making the windshields wet, especially at night in a storm. They don’t coat them, they use another technology. It’s something we’re looking at very seriously."
McLaren's future could also see shape-changing body panels, made to morph when a current is sent through them. It's not a style thing, though, but rather a new approach to aerodynamics.
Stephenson says it's not just wishful thinking, either.
"What you have is an active surface panel which can optimise itself, so, for example, the faster you go, the more slippery it can become yet it can return to its original shape."
Of course, if style is your number one priority, Stephenson's team has that covered also, from colour-changing body work to the next step in lighting.
"The other thing we can do is change the colour of the car instantaneously. So you can almost have, at your desire, a red car on Monday, a blue car on Tuesday and another colour on Wednesday." (Calling all getaway drivers... - Ed.)
"There are other things we’re looking at, for example, rather than having a colour on the panel, we can emit light from the panel. So, rather than attach indicators to the panels, you can light it up from the inside, meaning you can lose the visible additions to the car."
Matched with McLaren’s progressive approach to aerodynamics and engineering, Stephenson’s vision for design could make McLaren the brand to watch over the next years.