Volvo "360c"

The third habitat

The vision of self-driving cars: How will the design of vehicles change once they take over control of the driving? And when will we be along for the ride?
by Anna Moldenhauer | 11/6/2019

The days of wasting hours stuck in tailbacks, our blood pressure sky high even early in the morning due to other drivers’ kamikaze maneuvers, and our backs aching at the end of long journeys are a thing of the past: Autonomous driving promises time saving, comfort, and efficiency. For Germany and the USA, the development steps for self-driving automobiles are regulated in a classification system of Levels 1-5: From Level 1, in which vehicle support for the driver is limited to warning signals, to Level 5, in which the former driver becomes a passenger. Tests on autonomous systems are being conducted internationally and functions such as automatic parking are already available for luxury vehicles. However, technically speaking far more is actually already possible, as car manufacturers’ current concept cars constitute solutions for Levels 4 and 5, i.e., systems that permit fully automated and autonomous driving. In this year’s “Robocab” acceptance study, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO also states that “the implementation of highly-automated driving is imminent, meaning that in certain situations such as on the interstate or in a gridlock, the vehicle will be able to drive itself, such that on-going monitoring on the part of the driver is no longer necessary. Vehicles can perform an increasing number of driving tasks, and thus they will ultimately be capable of taking action, meaning they will be fully automated in any situation”. If it is concrete figures you are after, automotive manufacturers’ press releases often quote 2024 as the target year: In other words, within the space of five years the BMW Group and Daimler AG intend to be ready to launch driving assistance systems such as automated parking in passenger car models, and Hyundai is planning to start the mass production of autonomous vehicles as early as 2024.

Luxury for your work-life balance

The design of autonomous research vehicles is geared entirely to their specific use: In terms of interior design, private and rental cars will have a previously unknown level of comfort, which will be ideal for the work-life balance. As Josef Schlossmacher from Product and Technology Communications at Audi says: “Cars are increasingly becoming a ‘third habitat’ – after the home and workplace.” Aerodynamic, with low silhouettes and an electric drive, as far as design is concerned the models come across as sporty – in Volkswagen’s “I.D. Vizzion”, for example, the lithium-ion battery for emission-free drive disappears entirely in the underbody, with the front axis moved right to the front. If a model is designed for purely autonomous driving, the steering wheel, pedals, and dashboard are no longer necessary. Nonetheless, despite their low, dynamic shape, to date the vehicles intended for the luxury class do not exactly look compact. A look at the planned dimensions reveals that if anything they are comparable with today’s roomy sports saloons. There are several reasons for this: The switch to an electric drive reduces the need for cylinder space, which can now be used to store things. In the case of the Audi “Aicon” this means around 660 liters for luggage at the front and back of the vehicle. The technology for the assistance systems also needs sufficient space, because as Kai Langer, Head of BMW i Design reports, “the technology that as yet has not been used in a civilian capacity such as optical systems, radar etc. are correspondingly large and need to be stowed well away in a private vehicle.” Thought has also been given to making the passenger cabin spacious: Counter-opening doors and the lack of a B pillar mean passengers can enjoy sitting in a mobile lounge that is geared to making them feel as comfortable as possible.

BMW "Vision iNEXT"

Silk velvet and color accents

In the concept cars great importance is placed on the interior fittings in the self-driving vehicles: Fine leather upholstery, exotic woods, full pile carpets – totally exaggerated, the plans reveal the shape that a design that is as homely, exclusive, and personal as possible could take. Eye-catchers are certainly in demand: In the Citroen “19_19 Concept” the wide bench seats in the front and the sofa-style seating in the rear boast ultraviolet or white upholstery. For the “Vision iNEXT”, BMW separates the cockpit and rear seat visually: Whereas at the front nude tones with metallic accents predominate, at the back petrol-colored Jacquard fabric extends from the seats to the side walls and the back shelf. For the “e-Legend Concept” Peugeot mixes a technical fabric with silk velvet that surrounds the digital features and is intended to create a particularly pleasant feel.

The reduced noise level is also part and parcel of this relaxed, homely atmosphere: For its “AI:ME” study Audi linked up the audio system to a noise compensation system so that while the vehicle is moving things are totally quiet on the inside. In the Citroën “19_19 Concept” personalized contents are sent to each passenger in their own sound bubble. The intention is to offer a “travel experience” which, like with the Volvo “360c concept” provides an opportunity to sleep comfortably, just as much as a workstation and entertainment space. Large windows that are opaque from the outside heighten the driving experience, and for the perfect panoramic view the roof is also made of glass. As Citroën puts it, the aim with the “19_19 Concept” is to create the impression of a “floating” cabin. At the same time, so that the feeling of comfort created by sufficient leg room on the inside of the car is not diminished by too many seats, current research models have a maximum of four bucket seats.

Citroën "19_19 Concept"

Down to the very last detail the design needs to be just right for your personalized travel experience: From how the fabrics look and feel, the comfortable memory foam in the seats, real plants, to the perfume dispenser, which is a feature of the Peugeot “e-Legend Concept”. As Kai Langer, Head of BMW i Design says, “given that passengers’ attention no longer needs to be focused on the drive and the steering is no longer a tactile focal point, the wealth of information the design needs to provide increases.” The focus is now on ingenious details and high-end materials. “We very much based the interior of the BMW iNext on boutique hotels. The center console looks like a sideboard and otherwise too the inside, if anything, follows the guidelines for a home interior,” Langer adds. In view of this luxurious comfort and the high level of privacy for long distances as well, self-driving cars are intended to come out in top in comparison with public alternatives such as railroad and air travel. Flexibility and individualization are two key words that are becoming more important when it comes to the interior design of autonomous cars. With regard to the movement of the ergonomic seats, for example: As desired, these can be turned, swiveled and tilted in numerous sitting and reclining positions so that when the car is driving itself passengers can relax or communicate more easily with other occupants. Furthermore, fold-out platforms and screens provide an opportunity to work or hold meetings during journeys.

Mercedes "F 015"

The intelligent car

A digital assistant, as in Volkswagen’s “I.D. Vizzion”, provides safety and the form of entertainment desired: Using artificial intelligence, the host is capable of learning, with regard both to dangers on the road and passengers’ wishes. By means of facial recognition the system registers its guest and saves their personal preferences – for example the seat setting, ambient temperature, and taste in music. In the Audi "AI:ME", the stress state of the passengers is also to be measured for vital parameters in order to have a positive effect on them in terms of comfort functions. Equipped with voice and gesture control, the digital control is protected against errors and outside interference: In the case of the “Citroen 19_19 Concept” the automobile communicates with passengers via voice control and screens from the moment they get in until they get out. The system recognizes when the driver is approaching the vehicle, greets him and explains the car’s functions by means of animated graphics.

Numerous screens are fitted to deliver the right digital experience: For Mercedes’ “F015” six displays fully integrated in the dashboard, the rear, and the sides are currently under consideration. The virtual and the real worlds are meant to merge by short gestures or touch of the screens being sufficient for interaction with the vehicle. As far as Volkswagen’s “I.D.Vizzion” is concerned, there are plans for augmented reality by means of Microsoft HoloLens, i.e., a computer-assisted extension of reality perception. With the “Vision iNEXT”, on the other hand, the technology is kept in background. “Shy tech” is what Kai Langer calls the hidden technology, use of which is meant to be intuitive. “We don’t want to overtax people with complex systems, but rather give them a choice between the hi-tech opportunities available, which strike a balance between safety, comfort, and being patronizing,” Langer adds.

Practical and sturdy

Whereas autonomous vehicles for private use are still very much at the development stage, when it comes to autonomous public transport, things are a lot further advanced: In numerous big cities, autonomous subway systems are already part of everyday life. With regard to self-driving shuttle services, at the IAA 2019 motor show Continental and EasyMile offered a test ride in the “CUbE” robo-taxi. In Tokyo and Paris for example, manufacturer Navya is testing autonomous passenger transportation, mobility service providers such as Uber, Lyft and Voyage are looking into providing the service in the USA. Tesla and the Google daughter Waymo made headlines with their developments of technologies for autonomous vehicles already for some years. Together with the Dutch company 2getthere, the United Arab Emirates is planning how the driverless system can look on a grand scale in a town completely adapted to it for the model city "Masdar". And in numerous German towns such as Bad Birnbach in Bavaria, or in the grounds of the Charité clinic in Berlin, and in Keitum on the island of Sylt, autonomous busses are already operating on test routes. Though with most of the projects there are security staff on board during the journey, ready to help in the case of emergency, the numerous services on offer give the public an initial idea of what travelling on an autonomously driven system feels like. The temporary use of autonomous vehicles, i.e., carsharing is also being honed: With its “EASY-ULTIMO Concept” Renault, for example, is developing a self-driving, networked and electric robot vehicle, which can be booked and called via an interface and concierge services and which offers its passengers extensive technical services enabling them to spend their journey time in as productive a manner as possible.

Function before comfort

With regard to autonomous public transport there is less demand for luxurious design and aerodynamic bodywork than for functionality. According to the “Robocab” acceptance study compiled by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, “individual requirements in terms of vehicles’ features, bodywork, and fittings with vary depending on the use to which they are put. Autonomous vehicles are not seen as status symbols but rather as a reliable means of transport.” The creative entries to the Michelin Challenge Design demonstrate just how wide ranging the design of autonomous vehicles in public transport could be. Every year a jury comprising automobile designers and sector experts selects international finalists. The winning design in the 2019 competition is “Depot” by Jintae Tak, Minseok Choi, Doohee Lee and Joonyong Lee from Seoul – an autonomous vehicle which serves as a temporary workstation and, like a taxi, is called and can be used for the length of time required. Moritz Kirchhoff from Hanover created the planted “Urban Islands”, an autonomous shuttle service which moves slowly through the city. Passengers would be able to get on or off the platform at any time. And Siavash Jafari Jozani from Novato in California came up with “Waymo-Flow”, a concept for autonomous carsharing, in which every passenger has a slot for a personalized capsule that offers them individual comfort and is powered by solar energy. In the vision Jozanis has, vacant slots on the basic vehicle could be used for transport purposes, for example for parcel delivery robots. As part of the "New Living Space" project, graduates of the Transportation Interior Design course at Reutlingen University of Applied Sciences also collaborated with fischer automotive systems this year. One of the results was the "Concept NLX" by Kimberly Miling and Sebastian Bopp - a semi-automated one person vehicle who sucks in the polluted air, cleans and releases it while driving both towards the inside and the outside.

Positioning of different mobility concepts of the Robocab

Complex processes

Safety, comfort, efficiency, saving time, and accessibility are all areas in which in future autonomous vehicles are intended to win the day. With a view to implementing autonomous vehicles in mixed urban traffic, automobile manufacturers currently prefer working in partnerships on several issues simultaneously – from design, sensor technology, and cyber security to dealing with the unpredictability of human behavior, for example in the case of wrong-way drivers. According to Alexander Hitzinger, the member of the Management Board responsible for Technical Development at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, in view of the level of their development, autonomous vehicles are preferably used in the mobility services sector, and private autonomous vehicles more in the premium segment. Kai Langer, head of BMW i Design, also sees the implementation of autonomous driving as a whole as a long-term process: “Technically speaking the desired autonomy is already possible, from parking aid to tailback assistant. However, in a mature city the infrastructure and architectural concepts do not change from one day to the next. The transformation to overall autonomous coverage needs time.” In his opinion, the near-term implementation of purely autonomous transport in cities is more likely to be restricted to a few isolated metropolises. We will otherwise still have the private transport we are familiar with today. This symbiosis will be tested by Toyota next year in Tokyo: The fully automated research vehicle "P4" is to be integrated into public transport in the Odaiba district from July to September 2020.

EZ-ULTIMO: The premium mobility experience | Renault