The car as a living space
Dream up the interior of a self-driving car! A heavenly task for designers. With new technology, almost everything is possible – even jacuzzis. Let’s take a peek inside the cars of the future…
No car model is quite like the other. There are vans, sedans, cabriolets or SUVs, just to name a few. Car designs differ depending on the price range and have obviously changed substantially over the years.
However, looking at the bigger picture, car interiors have remained remarkably similar. Due to the nature of driving as we know it, they all share certain features: they have forward-facing seats, seatbelts, a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals. What a car looks like is somewhat limited by these invariables.
Just imagine how a car could be designed if all those compulsory features started to become superfluous!
Autonomous driving will radically transform the look and feel of our vehicles. It will make car rides much more convenient. Once people do not have to steer anymore, they gain time for other activities: working, watching movies or taking a nap. The car will become a living space - and this will be reflected by its interior.
The advent of the Highway Chauffeur will be a first milestone in this development. This automated driving function is expected to hit the market by 2020. While on the highway, drivers will be able to hand over control to the vehicle – and make better use of their time. In a more distant future, cars will operate completely autonomously, even in urban traffic. “As soon as people will be allowed to take their hands off the steering wheel, anything is possible,” says Frank M. Rinderknecht, founder and CEO of the visionary Swiss carmaker Rinspeed.
Thinking about the car of the future is Rinderknecht’s day-to-day business. His innovation lab has released several concept cars that envision what autonomous driving might look like one day. Take the 2014 concept car “XchangE” - a converted Tesla Model S (see main image above). The car’s seats have more than twenty possible arrangements for a relaxed ride – including a position that allows passengers to literally turn their back on traffic. They face the rear, where a 32 inch screen turns the vehicle into a home cinema.
Rinspeed's new autonomous concept car "Etos", which just premiered at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, comes with two curved widescreen monitors. Passengers can adjust them individually. “Many activities in an automated car will involve screens to enjoy on-board entertainment,” says Rinderknecht.
This can also be seen in the Mercedes F015, a groundbreaking research vehicle which the German carmaker introduced in 2015. The autonomous car is inspired by the concept of a “digital living space”. Wherever you look, your eyes meet a screen: they are integrated in the cockpit, the doors and the rear of the car – providing the passengers with information, entertainment and communication channels. The occupants operate them intuitively via eye tracking and gesture control.
With four elegant lounge chairs and ample space, the F015 resembles more a hotel lobby than a car. Once the passenger switches into “conducted mode”, the steering wheel retracts completely into the dashboard and the front-row chairs become rotatable. It is now possible to turn around and face the back-seat passengers – as if it was a train ride.
In spite of this futuristic approach, you could still turn your chair around at any time and take over control again. Mercedes deliberately allows for conventional driving – even in the autonomous concept car. “There will never be a Mercedes without a steering wheel,” Mercedes executive Thomas Weber has stated.
Granting the customer a choice between automatic and manual mode seems to be consensus in the traditional car industry. Both Nissan with its IDS concept and Volvo with the Concept 26 follow a similar path. “You should be allowed to drive when you want to and delegate driving when you want to,” is Volvo’s message. If the user switches from “Drive” to “Create” mode, the seat in the Concept 26 moves backwards, a table slides out from the driver's door and a tablet emerges from the dashboard. You can check your e-mails, shop or surf the web – your car does all the work. If you switch further into “Relax” mode, the seat fully reclines. Volvo encourages you to “enjoy a moment of quiet reflection” – but you could also take a nap.
Frank M. Rinderknecht expects “a very long phase of co-existence between conventional and self-driving cars.” But once autonomous vehicles have established themselves on our roads, he predicts even more radical changes in car design: “We will be able to detach ourselves from everything we know today.” With accidents becoming less and less likely, seatbelts and airbags could become obsolete. Like Google’s driverless car, more and more models could leave out pedals and steering wheels entirely to make optimum use of the available space.
Of course the very shape of a vehicle is likely to change as well. “Everything that physically holds the vehicle on the road is possible,” says Rinderknecht. Form will follow function. Business people would probably appreciate a rolling bureau. “Why not build a car in the form of an office container?” Other cars could assume the shape of an egg or a sphere.
In Rinderknecht’s vision, car ownership will become a thing of the past. “Mobility on demand will dominate. You will always be able to summon the car that fits your needs.” That includes many possibilities for leisure activities. Entirely new business models will be born: “There are no limits to the imagination,” says Rinderknecht. “If there is a market for cars with Jacuzzis, someone is going to build them.”
All these developments could lead to a deceleration of everyday life, Rinderknecht predicts. “Today I want to reach my destinations as fast as possible so I can start working or relaxing. In the future it will not matter at all if it takes me ten minutes longer. I hope this will slow down the rush of our everyday lives.”
About our expert:
Frank M. Rinderknecht is founder and CEO of the Swiss car manufacturer and innovation lab Rinspeed. The company is known for developing visionary concept cars, including several autonomous vehicles. At CES 2016, Rinderknecht introduced the self-driving concept car Etos.
A jacuzzi vehicle? A band rehearsal car? What kind of customized autonomous vehicle would you like to see?