As automotive technology develops at breakneck speed, familiar items such as the steering wheel and pedals may soon be relegated to the past. Autonomous cars won’t need them – well, most of the time anyway. Here’s a look at the cockpits of the future...
Nothing is more frustrating and wasteful than getting stuck in a traffic jam. But imagine an alternative where you press a button, release the steering wheel and watch as it slides into the dashboard. Finally, recline the seat and stretch your legs, allowing the onboard computer to drive for you. Now you can work, make phone calls, read, watch movies, surf the Internet, and so on. In short, do everything you need to – or just relax. This is not science fiction, but a snapshot of our automotive future – or at least one that’s imagined by the designers and technicians currently working on autonomous vehicles.
So far, this automobile revolution has been limited to the drawing board – and perhaps sketches and clips from science fiction movies. For a couple of years now, though, these futuristic and revolutionary visions have begun to make room for fully functional prototypes. And these ideas are very credible and realistic – it seems, the autonomous car is finally amongst us!
How will the cockpits of these cars be? Will they become traveling offices, living rooms, lounges, or playrooms? Maybe all this, and more – as shown by Mercedes-Benz with its F015 autonomous prototype at CES in January. In front of an awe-struck audience, the chairman of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, presented a fuel cell car that says goodbye to the old way of interior design. This Merc had swivel chairs, set in an ultra-comfortable space that was more ‘lounge’ than cockpit.
Luxury in Motion
In Stuttgart, they believe that in the megacities of the future (now 30, but tipped to become at least 40 within the next 15 years), true luxury will be the ability to forget the chaos of the city and be at peace in your car. “With the advanced growth of urbanisation, the desire to retreat into a private sphere will grow as well,” says the brand. “No more unpleasant situations when driving. Time spent in the cockpit will take on a new quality. This will be the luxury of the future.”
The F015 – a cross between a coupe and an SUV – has a cabin that feels like a high-tech business lounge. The space is dominated by four seats the swivel effortlessly – allowing the passengers to sit facing each other. Meanwhile, the instrument panel, doors and the rear wall are home to six interactive high-resolution displays that can be operated through gesture control, touch screen, or even eye-tracking technology.
More than a car, the F015 is a kind of digital arena – almost a real lounge. The big cabinet-like doors can open to 90-degrees, while the seats rotate outwards to facilitate easy entry and exit. And the steering wheel? Well, it’s still there, but almost hidden in the dashboard.
“Autonomous driving relieves pressure and stress,” says Herbert Kohler, responsible for research and development at Daimler. Well, enough of crawling through traffic jams or facing the boredom of a congested motorway. And so what you have is a small cinema or a private retreat nestled in traffic. Using artificial intelligence, your car will even choose the most efficient route – and so it’ll be much more like a partner rather than just a vehicle.
Only time (and the market) will tell if Stuttgart is right. However, traces of this movement were already present at Geneva last year with the Xchange – the Tesla Model S-based concept – elevated into the future thanks to automotive tuner Rinspeed’s Frank M Rinderknecht. This prototype is a car with a drive-by-wire steering disconnected from the mechanical system – always ready to slip into the dashboard, leaving the driver with a small table for his or her laptop or tablet. Like the Mercedes, Rinspeed also has seats that rotate, recline, and are configurable in 20 different settings – including a position designed for actual driving! Passengers, meanwhile, can look at the sky through the Plexiglas panoramic roof or watch a 32-inch screen (in HD, with gesture control), which is visible by lowering the rear seat backrest.
Rinspeed has also to gone obsessive lengths in the use of materials to create a relaxing environment. After all, if the car of tomorrow is to be better than a business class cabin then you must aim high. For fabrics, Rinderknecht has relied on merino wool and silk, while the inside of the Plexiglas canopy consists of 358 fully programmable LEDs.
There’s more. At the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, Rinderknecht is ready to present the ‘Budii’ (Buddy in English) – a BMW i3 based concept to “redefine the relationship between man and machine.” This visionary tuner will present a car that is ready to learn the habits of the driver, and ready to take him or her around as required. Rinderknecht believes that there’s more to automotive freedom than individuality and a drive into the sunset. The Rinspeed founder insists that to enjoy these privileges, “we are already willing to pay a high price – and the accident statistics confirm this.”
The Budii should therefore be seen as a robotic chauffeur, a digital driver ready to take on the daily commute – while the ‘boss’ takes the wheel only during the weekend or when he or she desires. The interior, therefore, has a steering wheel (drive by-wire, and on a mechanical arm) that can assume three different configurations – left to the classic position, to the right for the passenger, or in the center, hidden behind a screen that you can watch while the car drives independently.
Rinspeed is convinced that the transition will be gradual, and we’ll need a few more years to recognize our role in this new form of mobility. Today, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine leaving the car in the cold hands of a computer, while we dedicate ourselves to something other than driving. History, however, teaches us that technology that is incredible, absurd, or even uncomfortable, never leaves us once it enters our lives.
Will the day come when the driver puts his or her life in the hands of a machine that does it all alone, while he relaxes in a lounge seat? It appears that, at some point, it will be normal to watch a movie or organize a business meeting while we travel from one part of the city to another.
The interior space of the F015 is dominated by swivel seats – high-tech armchairs. Passengers will be surrounded by six high-definition screens
The Rinspeed Xchange is a kind of living room on wheels. Its passengers can slide the steering wheel to the centre to have more space to read, use a notebook, or watch the screen behind the rear seats
The latest version of the Google Car was made in late December, and is now about to land on the streets of California. Steering and brakes are still present, but only for testing. In the future, passengers will only need to sit down and choose their destination on the screen
Frank M Rinderknecht, Rinspeed’s owner, was a pioneer in envisioning the interior of an autonomous driving car. The Xchange (right) was presented in Geneva in 2014, and in 2015 he will present the
BMW i3-based Budii
The attention to detail in the interior of the Xchange is maniacal and precise – from the fabrics, which include silk and merino wool, to the seats that offer 20 different settings
The Budii is Rinspeed’s latest interpretation of the autonomous car. Based on the BMW i3, it will be presented at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show
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