Times are good for Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed. After years of coming up with fun but improbable automotive novelty concepts like the sQuba diver and iChange shape shifter, Rinspeed is now able to focus on designs that might actually have an impact on an automotive market that's in a state of technological acceleration. Earlier this year, it took us inside the autonomous car with the XchangE, and next year it plans to show us how that car will be more than just a means of transportation. It'll be your best Budii.
In teasing the Budii this week, Rinspeed made clear that the new concept picks up where the XchangE left off, showing how the hardware and software of the autonomous car will combine for a heightened user experience that applies to both workweek commuting and weekend pleasure driving. With the concept, Rinspeed imagines the self-driving car becoming the owner's best friend. Like a loyal hound, the Budii learns from its owner and environment and adapts to better serve its master, starting by acting as a chauffeur that autonomously drives to and fro.
Rinspeed imagines Budii's self-driving capabilities being limited mostly to tedious, traffic-infested, workweek-type commutes. The car will bravely do all the navigating, stopping and going, and lane changing so that you, its best friend, can enjoy some free time immediately before and after work.
Similar to the XchangE, the Budii features an optional steering wheel that allows the driver to take control whenever he or she wants. In fact, the steering wheel can swing out to the left or right via a robotic arm, turning either the traditional driver or passenger position into the driver's seat of the moment. During autonomous driving, the steering wheel is parked in between seats. The idea here is that the autonomous car doesn't eliminate driving, which many people enjoy, but merely the necessity and hassle of driving. The owner remains as free as ever to spend his summer and fall taking the controls of scenic drives through the country, along the coast, and over and around the mountains.
"The transition from traditional to autonomous driving will take place in stages," explains Rinspeed chief Frank Rinderknecht. "Consequently, man and machine will still have a few years left to get used to this new form of mobility and the different interplay between people and technology it will entail, time they both will need.
"[Cars] will keep learning each day, and as a result will get better and better at mastering the complex challenges of modern-day private transport."
Rinspeed hasn't yet provided further details about the Budii's "host of innovations," but based on the description of it as a "friend on wheels," we expect it to have some high-tech features that create a highly personalized user experience. As it usually does, Rinspeed will provide more details as the 2015 Geneva Motor Show draws nearer.