Massachusetts-based startup ClearMotion has bought up Bose’s revolutionary proactive suspension technology, and has raised US$100 million to commercialize it – and potentially refocus it toward making autonomous cars more effective and more comfortable mobile workspaces.
Remember Bose Ride? Don’t worry if you don’t, it was announced some 14 years ago and despite the tech looking extremely promising, nothing really came of it. Originally a back-office skunkworks project, it used magnetic speaker driver technology in a radically different way – to push the wheels of a car up and down on their suspension.
We’re well acquainted with active suspension these days, but the majority of systems on the market simply adjust the suspension damping to effect ride quality changes, either by widening and narrowing valves in a suspension fluid transfer system, or by using magneto-rheological fluids that can change their viscosity almost instantly in response to an electromagnetic signal.
The Bose system was different. It was designed to read the road ahead of you and determine, for example, where a pothole might be for your front wheel to drop into. And then, rather than simply letting the wheel drop in there, it would force the wheel downward, getting it to the bottom of the hole quicker and making life much more comfortable for passengers – not to mention, maximizing grip and safety.
At the end of the pothole – or when encountering a positive bump in the road surface, the system would go into reverse, and use the kinetic energy provided by the bump to recover energy back into the system. In this way, the entire system’s energy consumption could be kept as low as a third of a standard air-con system.
Using the same technology, body roll during aggressive turns could be almost completely eliminated by forcing the outside of the car up on its electromagnetic stilts to compensate for cornering forces. The suspension action was famously fast and powerful enough to spring a car completely into the air, as Bose demonstrated by having a demo car bounce itself over a railroad sleeper at speed.
Bose had been developing the technology for some 24 years before it debuted it in 2004, and despite the ride looking extremely smooth, both dynamically and in a ride comfort sense, it seemed the company wasn’t able to get the maths right for widespread auto industry application. Perhaps the system was too expensive, or the large actuators it required were too heavy and bulky – either way it didn’t take off. Although it’s worth noting that Audi’s A8 from 2017 incorporated a system that sounds very similar and looked a lot more compact.
That’s not necessarily the end of the story, though. Massachusetts-based startup ClearMotion bought all the technology from Bose last year, and is working hard to get it across the line and out into the market.
After raising US$100 million, ClearMotion is developing the Bose tech into a proactive ride management system it says shouldn’t be much bigger than a standard set of shock absorbers. It’s been working with Bridgestone and Qualcomm, as well as other suppliers, trying to get its gear into production vehicles. And from the looks of the renders here, it’s managed to make the system absolutely tiny.
And while Bose felt the tech was most appropriate for high-end luxury cars with sporty handling aspirations, ClearMotion seems to be refocusing things toward a future mass market: autonomous cars.
The thinking goes along these lines: People are prepared to put up with a bumpy ride when they’re driving, but once self-driving cars make everyone a passenger, people will be trying to use their commute times to get things done, either on laptops or other mobile devices, and an active ride technology that keeps fingers from slipping onto the wrong keys could prove much more of a selling point for mobility service providers keen to differentiate themselves.
While we’d still like to see this hyper-active style of suspension in a car we can test and enjoy it in as drivers, it would be great to see an idea like this finally have its time in the mainstream spotlight. We’ll keep an eye on ClearMotion to see where things go from here.