By now, we suspect most of us are familiar with the concept of autonomous or self-driving cars. From the Tesla Model S and its autopilot capabilities through to Nissan’s autonomous driving prototypes, IDS Concept car and Google’s pod-like self-driving urban runabouts, we’ve seen enough autonomous vehicles now to understand how they work and why they exist.
Kitted with a plethora of sensors, the latest in computer technology and furnished with the ability to learn from their experiences, these autonomous, self-driving cars will some day soon transform the way we travel. They will transform long-distance trips and perhaps even challenge the very concept of private car ownership. Some will provide autonomous-only operation without any driver control interfaces, while others will come with the capability to switch between autonomous and manual driving modes.
So far, automakers who have developed autonomous driving technology have worked hard to demonstrate the safety aspects and competencies of their self-driving cars. Few have shown us an idea of what life will be like travelling in one on a daily basis. But today at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Swedish automaker Volvo has done just that by unveiling Concept 26, an interior design concept which hints at what life in its self-driving cars of the future may be like.
One of the leading proponents of autonomous drive technology, Volvo has been working for many years on perfecting the mechanics of autonomous driving and already has plans for a fleet of semi-autonomous Volvos to be tested on the streets of Gothenburg from 2017 onwards. But for its LA Auto Show concept, Volvo has put the engineering focus to one side with a beautiful interior design that while familiar, moves the humble car interior beyond a box with four wheels, seats, and a collection of doors and windows.
“Volvo Concept 26 addresses the notion that driving can still be fun and liberating on the right day and on the right road but that some parts of driving, notably the daily commute in many metro areas, is stressful, frustrating and even broken,” said Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, General Manager of the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Centre, where the Concept 26 was built. “By providing drivers the choice of when to drive or delegate driving, we are able to retain the love and freedom of the open road while fixing the broken commute.”
The idea that the daily commute is more a chore than an enjoyable part of everyone’s day features heavily in the design of Concept 26. While the car features seating for four in the individual, executive-style seats you’ll find in many high-end luxury cars, the front seats have a much longer range of fore and aft movement than standard front seats, allowing the driver and front-seat passenger to push themselves towards the centre of the car when autonomous drive mode is engaged.
What’s more, the front seats can recline just like the seats on a luxury jet, complete with leg rests.
That feature is part of the Relax driving mode, one of three individual driving modes Volvo says Concept 26 hints could be possible in Volvo cars of the near future. When in Relax mode, the car takes complete control of driving, while the driver and their passenger can enjoy vehicle-curated content on a massive 25-inch flat screen display which flips up from the underside of the passenger dashboard during autonomous mode operation. Upon entering either Relax or Create mode, the steering wheel retracts close to the dashboard, providing as much space for the driver to move about as possible.
A centre console, complete with touch-screen tablet interface, allows the driver to enjoy a more personal form of entertainment such as reading a digital book or catching up with an online news site.
In Create mode, the driver and passenger seats can be reconfigured to “complete a range of activities,” says Volvo, with all of the car’s on-board Internet-connected technology working to provide a productive working environment while the car takes care of driving you to your destination.
Finally, Drive mode provides the driver with a non-distracted environment for driving, hiding the 25-inch touch-screen display from view and providing pertinent information about the route on a clear LCD display behind the wheel.
While the Volvo Concept 26 is just that — a concept vehicle interior that may never make it into production — we note that Volvo has designed the interior and its features to be compatible with the new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform which underpins the Volvo XC90 SUV, as well as some of Volvo’s autonomous drive research vehicles.
As for what will really enter production? That’s something Volvo says it is keen to discuss with existing and future Volvo customers through a new website called FutureofDriving.com.
Until Volvo’s autonomous vehicles hit the market however, we’re keen to know what you’d like to see inside a self-driving car. A large TV? Always on Internet? Or perhaps you’ve a different idea.
Leave yours in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.