The fact that autonomy is the next frontier isn’t really news. Neither is the fact that automakers are still very much figuring on how to approach this new dimension. Audi, for instance, has launched a program they’re calling the “25th Hour.”
The objective of this project is to better understand how the occupants of an autonomous car can best utilise their time – whether that is by working, spending time with family, or just getting some downtime. “When cars no longer have a steering wheel, premium mobility can be newly defined. In future, people traveling from A-to-B will be able to surf the Internet at leisure, play with their children – or do concentrated work,” says Melanie Goldmann, head of Culture and Trends Communication at Audi.
To help find some of these answers, Audi has turned to the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart for Industrial Engineering, where they’ve built a futuristic driving simulator that creates an automated driving environment. Windows can be dimmed and large-scale projections can be changed to introduce various elements and distractions into the environment to determine just how people respond when they’re not in control of the vehicle.
The subjects had their brain activity measured, and the study found that people are more relaxed when there are fewer distractions. “The results show that the task is to find the right balance. In a digital future, there are no limits to what can be imagined. We could offer everything in the car – really overwhelm the user with information,” says Goldmann.
Clearly, finding the right environment for the occupants of an autonomous car will take plenty more studies. One thing is clear though, and that’s the fact that no automaker can afford not to expand their scope and study this new-age ecosystem – especially with the success of Tesla, and the interest that technology companies like Apple, Google and Uber have expressed in redefining the future of mobility.