Autonomous cars start to take shape
We've heard a lot of chatter about autonomous vehicles over the past several years and seen a variety of hardware. So far, most autonomous cars are rough, experimental versions of current models, with all kinds of added sensor hardware. The recent Geneva Motor Show flipped the autonomous vehicle inside out, showcasing several futuristic design studies that peeked inside the car cabin of the future.
The new Link & Go 2.0 from AKKA Technologies is an evolution of the original Link & Go from last year's Geneva show. The first Link & Go laid the technological groundwork for AKKA's autonomous vision, focusing entirely on the car itself. Its design included a touch- and gesture-based human interface, a dual-mode design with fully autonomous driving option, a self-parking system controlled via smartphone, and an augmented-reality display for watching the road outside from the lounge-style cabin.
Last year's 11.8-ft-long (3.6-m) Link & Go was powered by two rear-mounted 28-kW electric motors and was able to navigate autonomously with the help of GPS, SLAM (simultaneous localization acquisition and mapping), LiDAR, stereo cameras and other sensors. Electric motors integrated into the directional suspension system provided tight turning and enhanced maneuverability. AKKA said the car was capable of a range up to 124 miles (200 km).
This year's 2.0 version builds upon that technological base and looks beyond the hood in experimenting with how the autonomous city car fits into the greater urban transportation landscape. In AKKA's vision, cars are a part of a coordinated transportation infrastructure that includes pedestrians, cyclists and other commuters. Instead of being limited to individual spaces - car lanes, bike lines, sidewalks, etc. - all transportation vessels and persons utilize the same space and coordinate through advanced communications and sensor systems. That sounds like bloody carnage to us, but AKKA reckons it's the future.
The Link & Go 2.0 is lacking the big LiDAR roof unit of the original, but AKKA says that it monitors 360 degrees around its perimeter using a combination of lasers, cameras and other sensors. It also communicates with other vehicles and the city infrastructure itself.
AKKA envisions the car being part of a car-sharing system, coordinated through a cloud network so that passengers with similar destinations could share rides. It also envisions the car making use of its autonomous technology to add efficiency to the transportation infrastructure, automatically charging itself when its battery is low, driving through the car wash on its own when it's dirty, etc. Last year, it showed a robotic charging arm concept that hooked the car up to the grid without human intervention.
AKKA didn't have the Link & Go 2.0 open when we were there, but the original Link & Go showed a lounge-like cabin where "everyone is a passenger." A steering wheel allowed for manual driver control, mixing in acceleration and braking functions, then retracted when autonomous mode is selected. The front seats swung around to face the rear seats, and a central infotainment screen allowed occupants to monitor the world outside, providing peace of mind. The screen was also used for entertainment.
The Link & Go models are part of ongoing autonomous vehicle research that AKKA believes will "help to drive the design changes for future vehicles."
They weren't the only visionary autonomous cars at the Geneva Motor Show that might help drive those changes, however. As we previously reported, Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed presented its own vision called the XchangE. This concept, too, employs swiveling front seats that quickly transform the cabin from traditional drive mode to laid back lounge mode. The seats feature 20 different adjustments to dial comfort just right every time.
In terms of onboard technology, the XchangE has 4G connectivity to support passenger activities like Web browsing and video conferencing. A four-screen Harman infotainment system includes a 32-inch 4K display designed for entertainment. Like the Link & Go, the XchangE incorporates a moving steering wheel underpinned by steer-by-wire technology.
The Link & Go models and Rinspeed XchangE join the Zoox Boz in providing a look at what the future of autonomous driving technology may hold.