It's been decades since the audiophiles at Bose (yes, that Bose) first started working on a new kind of electromagnetic car suspension system that could sense the road, keep the vehicle perfectly level, and provide an ultra-smooth ride. Incredible as early demos looked, "Project Sound" was deemed too heavy and costly to use on real production cars. That is, until now.
Bose eventually sold the technology to an active suspension company called ClearMotion, whose CEO recently told Autocar that no fewer than five major automakers have expressed interest in bringing its new version to market. In fact, the smooth-sailing tech, now dubbed the "digital chassis system," is headed for a "low-volume vehicle" in 2019 and on track to hit mass production in 2020.
It's worth reiterating just how promising Bose's Project Sound looked when it was formally unveiled in the mid-2000s after over two decades of research. Hatched in the mind of founder Amar Bose, who was known for both his love of obscure passion projects and his hatred for potholes, it was an audacious idea that saw traditional shock absorbers replaced with linear electric motors. The motors would extend and retract based on data from the road sensors, all of which had to be processed and acted upon in milliseconds.
Active suspension systems are fairly common these days, but this plan took it to another level of control. The result would be a car that could stay perfectly flat in the corners, make rough roads completely imperceptible to the driver, and actually "lift" a wheel to skip over a pothole. Best of all, it could actually hop over obstacles. It sounds impossible, but by 2005 the company had a working prototype running underneath an old Lexus LS 400. If you haven't seen it in action, it almost looks fake.
Unfortunately, Bose never quite managed to bring Project Sound out of its skunkworks phase, and the global financial crisis that arrived a few years later provided the final nail in the coffin. Bose recouped some of the 30-year R&D costs by spinning off a company called Bose Ride that made an active suspension seat for semi-truck drivers before selling the technology to ClearMotion.
To reach production status, ClearMotion ditched the electric motor idea and applied Bose's road sensing and control software to its own work on active valve dampers (similar to the much-discussed Multimatic DSSV system on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2). CEO Shak Avadhany describes the system as "proactive" rather than active. It looks mighty impressive, if not quite as unreal as the Bose rig, and the closing shot of a BMW 5-Series driving down a crumbling runway with a champaign tower perched on its hood is a fitting finale.
Avadhany won't say yet which automakers are on board—though if everything goes according to plan, we'll find out soon enough.