Take one BMW i3, add some autonomous smarts like laser guidance, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, radar, motion sensing systems, and an advanced camera monitoring set up, then give it a quirky robot arm to do the steering, and you have Rinspeed's new Budii concept car. Described as your "friend on wheels," the Budii is also designed to adapt to the habits and preferences of the owner via a user interface. In this way, according to its creators, it becomes your proactive and attentive companion who knows just how you like your driving experience.
The first inklings of the Budii concept started to appear at the close of 2014, when it wasn't much more than a handful of drawings and a lot of "ifs" and "maybes." Fast-forward to this week, and Rinspeed is preparing to deliver the machine in the flesh, replete with many of the features hinted at, and more.
Of course, being a Rinspeed concept, the Budii is not a car to be hidden in the crowd. Apart from its interesting paint job and eye-catching colored grill, the Budii also sports its most obvious feature: a telescoping laser scanner on its roof. Dubbed TrackView, this periscope-like arrangement can be raised up to 70 cm (28 in) to help deliver a super-precise perspective of the environment around the vehicle by amalgamating data from all its sensors and a high-resolution camera to produce a 3D map of the nearby terrain.
Other features include an adjustable air suspension system, electrically-operated doors, bespoke 19-inch alloy wheels, and two electric mini vehicles that are housed in roll-out draw pods on either side of the car. One assumes that these electric two-wheelers are for those occupants who – after being driven around in an autonomous, self-driving vehicle – still find it too taxing to actually walk the final few yards to their destination.
The occupants don't necessarily need to be driven around autonomously all of the time, however, as the robotic arm control will happily hand the steering wheel over to the driver (or even the front passenger, if you like to mix it up a little) to take command. When in automated driving mode, the robot arm will move the steering wheel into the center.
With a completely new operating and display system fitted in place of the i3's old controls, the technology is reported to feature a range of innovative entertainment, safety and attendance functions. And, the vehicle also incorporates a high-end Harman-Kardon premium audio and video set up. In autonomous mode, passengers could sit back and watch a movie as the Budii piloted them to their destination.
Besides the radar systems and Vehicle-to-X communication solutions, Rinspeed says that the Budii is set up to provide wireless power phone charging, automatic payment for parking via NFC (Near Field Communication), and keyless entry with a remote control that not only locks and unlocks the vehicle, but also offers remote starting and customization options. To top off all of this gadgetry, solid state lighting in the form of LEDs provides all of the lighting on the vehicle.
As you might expect from a Geneva Motor Show autonomous concept showpiece, there are plenty of over-the-top added extras joining a myriad cup-holders, and a barrage of slide-out, roll-down, and pop-out accessories.
For starters, there's something called the "wellness shower" incorporated in the headliner (though Rinspeed hasn't gone into any further detail about precisely what that is). Then there's what is probably the most complex and expensive watch-winding mechanism ever devised. The Budii comes supplied with a Manero PowerReserve watch from Carl F. Bucherer that instructs the robotic steering arm to wind it up when an inbuilt high-resolution camera on the interior of the vehicle detects that the power reserve display on the watch face is warning of its imminent energy depletion.
According to Rinspeed's owner, Frank.M.Rinderknecht, the new Budii autonomous "trans-urban SUV" needs all of these complex and quirky gadgets to be included as it is a learning platform for future iterations of self-driving cars and all of their technology requirements.
"The autonomously driving car will require more than solving technical problems and legal issues in the next two decades," said Rinderknecht. "We not only have to redefine the interaction of man and machine, but must also raise questions about responsibility, tolerances and expectations. But even the best technology will not be perfect, albeit less prone to error than humans. That is something we will have to accept. We should not develop a blind, but rather a healthy trust in the new capabilities of the hardware and software. In the future, cars will do just as we do: they will keep learning every day, and as a result will get better and better at mastering the complex challenges of modern-day private transport."
The RInspeed Budii concept will be on display at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show, which runs from March 5 to 15.
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