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Jeep Is Developing Autonomous Off-Road Driving Tech to Help Out on the Trail

Does a little robot help add to the four-wheeling experience, or spoil it?

byLewin Day|
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Multiple automakers are all vying to develop self-driving systems to transport people around with minimal hassle. Meanwhile, Jeep, true to its ethos, is developing autonomous tech for driving off the beaten path.

Jeep has been testing its advanced driving assists in Moab, Utah, with the hardware installed in a pair of hybrid Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe models. Neda Cvijetic, Head of AI & Autonomous Driving at Stellantis, has led the development effort, which aims to give Jeep vehicles the ability to drive themselves in rugged off-road environments. Notably, the technology is being developed exclusively for the Jeep brand. "We are tackling these challenges that are in some sense greater than what you experience in on-road autonomy," said Cvijetic, adding "that's what, [for] any engineer... makes your heart skip a beat."

Details on the technology are currently scant, but Jeep has a full reveal planned for the summer. For now, it has released a video of two prototypes tackling trails in Moab. The two Grand Cherokees can be seen covered in cameras and sensors, and driving at times with no driver behind the wheel.

The idea of using self-driving technology on off-road trails is an interesting one. It would be fair to say that for many, driving off-road is a hobby. Thus, there's some question as to the point of automating a driving task done for pleasure.

However, as an assistant, it could prove useful, particularly if the system is capable for unsticking drivers from complex situations beyond their own abilities. Additionally, for those who need to drive off-road for work instead of play, it's understandable that a little robot help would be more than welcome. Plus, one can imagine that with the aid of low-mounted lidar sensors or cameras, an autonomous system could potentially find more grip and better lines than a human in the cabin.

To that end, Jeep CEO Christian Meunier notes that it marks a new level of capability for the company. "These advanced off-road driving systems will help more customers in more countries around world join and enjoy the adventure," said Meunier, adding "These features and technology will have real-life applications on and off the trail in a wide range of driving conditions,”

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Progress in self-driving systems for on-road use remains steady, with many hurdles still yet to be overcome. It's interesting to see an automaker like Jeep looking towards driving assists for an altogether different environment. As an off-road focused brand, such technology could prove a useful point of difference for the company going forward.

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