Each year, Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed reveals an all-new forward-looking concept car at the annual Geneva Motor Show. Last year it showed a robotic autonomous concept called Budii, and in past years, it's revealed a six-wheeled range-extending electric minicar, a truly go-anywhere amphibious hybrid and a shape-shifting electric 1+2. In 2016, Rinspeed will switch venues and reveal a drone-docking autonomous car at the Consumer Electronics Show. The car is called Ʃtos, and like all those previous Rinspeed designs, it's as interesting and thought-provoking as it is weird and overdesigned.
The Consumer Electronics Show has been attracting more and more attention from the auto industry, which highlights everything from in-vehicle electronics, to green drive tech, to full-blown concept cars like this year's Mercedes F 015.
"The continued growth of the automotive category at CES parallels the rapid evolution of in-vehicle technologies," Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association commented last year. "From connectivity to autonomous driving technologies to other rapidly evolving innovations, consumers today view in-vehicle technology as an important factor in their buying decisions."
Earlier this year, CES 2015 attracted a record 10 auto manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Ford and GM. With names like those, Rinspeed may be a small fish in a big pool, but its planned CES 2016 appearance is quite notable nonetheless. Not only will Rinspeed add another full concept car debut to the show, but it will make a debut outside its home country for the first time – and not at another international auto show, but an electronics show.
"The major and especially the disruptive innovations in future automotive engineering will come from the digital realm," says Rinspeed chief Frank Rinderknecht. "That is why all major manufacturers and suppliers are now present at the Consumer Electronics Show."
Wild fantasy cars never to be realized, Rinspeed's designs may not be "disruptive" in terms of directly getting cutting edge products into people's hands, but they do disrupt conventional thinking, introducing new ideas and speeding up the materialization of existing ideas. In 2014, Rinspeed showed its vision for an autonomous vehicle interior about a year before major names like Mercedes and Italdesign Giugiaro did the same.
The Ʃtos continues the evolution of Rinspeed's autonomous design experimentation and it packs enough superfluous gadgetry to surprise even a jaded CES attendee. Like its 2014 and 2015 autonomous predecessors, the Ʃtos features an adaptable autonomous interior with moving steering wheel. In this case, the steering wheel doesn't just move out of the driver-passenger's way, it folds up and retracts into the dashboard – so there's absolutely no reminder of that outdated task of "manual driving."
As part of autonomous mode, the driver- and passenger-side curved widescreens close together to create the centerpiece of the connected entertainment system. Rinspeed has teamed with Harman on the design of this system.
The interior design seems to be a modest update from the Budii and XchangE concepts, and the Ʃtos real selling point is outside the car. Rinspeed follows Renault in designing a concept car that uses a drone as an extension of the capabilities between the bumpers. That drone docks on an integrated landing pad.
The Ʃtos drone has a different set of tasks from the Renault KWID concept Flying Companion, serving more as a high-tech personal assistant than a component of the autonomous hardware suite. While the Ʃtos is handling the task of driving, its drone can be taking care of other tasks for you, including picking up something that you ordered online. So while you're stuck in traffic on the way to the game, maybe you can save some time and send your drone to pick up the food and meet you at the tailgate. It's like a self-pickup version of Amazon's GPS-based drone delivery system. The drone also has the usual photography support capabilities, so it can be used to film and live-stream your drive from a more all-encompassing angle than you'd get with a POV action cam.
Rinspeed also says that the Ʃtos highlights "special innovative surface finishes" that are "completely alien to car designers." It doesn't explain what those finishes are, but it invites CES attendees to experience them for themselves.
Rinspeed may be changing venues, but it seems to be sticking with its m.o. of doing a late-year preview while saving a lot of details for the actual debut early the following year. Its press release definitely feels short and incomplete, so we anticipate it will have more to say about the Ʃtos concept at the official January reveal in Las Vegas.
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