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Self-driving automobiles are the way of the future

Konstantin Sheiko
April 3, 2018

Tesla, General Motors, Volkswagen Group, Renault, BMW and a host of other tech and auto companies are racing to get self-driving vehicles on the road. Although we are still several years away before a fully autonomous car could hit the market, automakers are already exploring how the tech could change vehicles themselves. Taking the driver out of the equation gives designers new freedom to reimagine car interiors.

Renault showed off its Symbioz concept at 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show. Like the Sedric, the car has four chairs that allow passengers to face each other. 

The stunning Renault Trezor concept is another good example of how a car doesn't need to lack driver controls to be autonomous friendly. The canopy doors of the vehicle lift so passengers can hop inside. Once inside, the driver would sit in the red-leather cockpit that looks fairly snug. The driver could then flick on autonomous mode and watch the car do all the work, but easily grab a hold of the steering wheel if they want to take advantage of its sub-four-second, 0-60 mph acceleration time.

Many companies are exploring what concept cars would like if they removed the driver seat, but that does not mean all of the cars are giant lounges on wheels. BMW's Mini Vision Next 100 has a bench seat in the front so an owner could still choose to drive if he or she wanted. When the car is driving autonomously, the steering wheel will automatically shift into the centre of the dashboard. The dashboard is minimalistic compared to most vehicles on the road today because an owner presumably would not need as much information when the car primarily drives itself.

In June 2017 Rolls-Royce (which is owned by BMW) became yet another luxury car producer to launch its concept for a driverless car, The Vision Next 100. The car won’t be available for at least two decades, but the blueprint is still stunning. It features an artificial intelligence chauffeur (‘the voice of Eleanor’)‚ a ‘floating’ hull and a coach door that sweeps open (inspired by Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, according to the company). The Vision Next 100 is an autonomous vehicle aimed at “the most discerning and powerful patrons in the world”. 

It has no steering wheel and a silk “throne” from which its occupants can watch the world go by. Rolls-Royce said the zero-emission model, codenamed showed the company “rejects the notion of anonymous, utilitarian and bland future modes of mobility”. In a statement that was short on technical specifications but packed with florid description, Rolls-Royce promised an interior made only of “the most precious and contemporary elegance”.

Rolls-Royce joins rival Mercedes-Benz, which launched a driverless car concept, the F 015 Luxury in Motion in 2016. The concept four-seater vehicle will have rotating lounge chairs cast in ice-white nappa leather, that allow a face-to-face seat configuration. 

Meanwhile, British carmaker Jaguar has said it will launch a fleet of more than 100 autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles on UK roads by 2020. 

From crash-test worthiness to a quality, technology-rich driving experience, the expectations from vehicles at the top end of the luxury market are high. Better safety is one of the biggest concerns, and experts reckon that autonomous cars could reduce accidents by up to 90 percent. 

Examples of where these ‘requests’ might occur could be where the sensed data received by the vehicle is incomplete or ambiguous - for example, if there is a dusty environment, or the system cannot detect whether an object is present in front of the vehicle. However, in the case of a split-second emergency, the system itself would need to make a decision. 

For example, if a pedestrian stepped out in front of a self-driving car, would the car swerve to avoid the pedestrian, potentially putting its passengers in danger? As far as we know, an autonomous Uber car has already killed a woman in the street in Arizona, in what appears to be the first reported fatal crash involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian in the US. Self-driving vehicles present multiple regulatory and legal challenges. In the case of an incident, who is responsible - the driver, the manufacturer, the insurer, or the designer?

It is safe to state that currently companies are exploring how cars might look without a driver's seat, but that does not mean all automakers are sold on the notion that driver controls need to go. These concepts show how companies are exploring how everything from the dashboard to the seats can change when self-driving tech hits the market.