When it comes to designing concept cars, Rinspeed doesn't just think outside the box; it crushes the box down, rips it to shreds and uses the shreds to light the bonfire it stares into as it daydreams about its next idea. Next year, it's abandoning its longstanding convention of debuting a creative concept at the Geneva Motor Show, instead using the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show. The Etos concept adds a little consumer electronic tech to the Swiss think tank's way-beyond-the-box thinking.
In case you think we're exaggerating about the sheer automotive lunacy coming out of Rinspeed's Zumikon, Switzerland HQ, consider past concepts like the Splash hydrofoil amphibious sports car, Presto collapsible car and sQuba electric submersible - weirdness with wheels. In fact, you could look at Rinspeed's entire show car portfolio dating back more than 20 years, and you'll have very few "I could imagine that showing up at the dealership" moments.
And we're not being critical. We love that someone has the guts to attack automotive design like a wild-eyed student, then actually build ideas into real, tangible concept cars. The pictured Splash even took a record-setting ride across the English Channel.
Given the earlier January date of CES compared to the March start of the Geneva Motor Show, Rinspeed has tweaked its usual December teaser/February reveal schedule, teasing the Etos in October and opening the full press kit this month. The concept combines two themes that promise to be a big part of CES: autonomous driving and drone tech.
Built atop the BMW i8, the Etos centers around an advanced autonomous platform that combines eight exterior HD cameras, high-precision GPS navigation with 3D imaging of buildings, trees, bus stops and other notable surroundings, and car-to-x capabilities. An interior gaze-tracking system monitors the driver's eyes to track what he or she has and has not seen, providing warnings to help augment natural vision. The electronic side-view mirrors operate as part of this system, displaying an image only when the driver looks at them.
With the Etos, Rinspeed continues the in-house evolution of the autonomous cockpit that it started with the 2014 XchangE and continued with last year's Budii. Each of those previous concepts employed its own style of adjustable steering wheel for adapting between human and machine driving, and the Etos has the cleanest implementation yet: a steering wheel that folds and retracts neatly into the dashboard when autonomous mode is selected. This way the driver doesn't even have to be reminded about the tedious task of driving endured by his ancestors.
The Etos boasts an advanced infotainment system with dual curved 21.5-in Ultra HD wide screens. Harman helped develop the brain of the system, an infotainment engine with connectivity, entertainment and safety features. The predictive system learns and adapts to the driver's behavior and delivers reminders and updates about things like routing, refueling, appointments and settings. So not only does the driver not have to take the wheel or pedals, but he shouldn't have to spend as much time operating in-car hardware. When he does, it can be done by voice, gesture, touch or physical controls.
Another interesting feature of the cockpit, the stylish Carl F. Butcherer Patravi Traveltec analog timepiece lends a classically Swiss twist. It's enclosed within a rotating housing that provides automatic winding. That arched housing also rotates to point an integrated webcam at the driver or passenger position for video calls.
All the Etos' connected car features of course rely on a stable connection for reception and transmission of data. The Etos uses both a smartphone connection and a set of roof-integrated Vites flat antennas. The infotainment system compounds data about cellular reception and route to keep access as smooth as possible and inform occupants about upcoming disruptions in network access.
While autonomous tech is the clear highlight of the Etos, the feature that is sure to make the most buzz at CES – literally and figuratively – is the accompanying DJI drone docked on a purpose-built landing pad. This drone takes on the role of personal assistant and photographer, as Rinspeed imagines it performing errands, such as picking up purchases made from inside the vehicle and taking video footage of the drive, before flying back to the car.
As if a drone-docking autonomous hybrid didn't have enough extraneous tech, the drone landing pad gives it a little more. Made from Gorilla Glass, the landing pad includes 12,000 individually controlled LED lights designed to turn it into an electronic message board or pulsating light show.
Styling isn't always a major talking point of Rinspeed vehicles, but the think tank has made it a focus of the Etos, which looks quite different from the stock i8. Beyond just the usual tuner-style aesthetic updates, including heavily modified front- and rear-ends and 20-in Borbet GTX rims, Rinspeed injects ceramics and metal alloys into the build and adds a 3D-effect finish to the front.
Once again, Rinspeed has us rethinking what the automobile can be - even though it will probably never be this. For a closer look and feel, Rinspeed will be premiering the car at CES from January 5th through the 8th and showing it again at the Geneva Motor Show starting on March 1st.
Auto geeks headed to CES have plenty of all-new hardware to look forward to this year. Startup Faraday Future will show what its automotive vision is all about; Audi will be showing a concept car; Chevy is expected to bring the production Bolt EV; and Volkswagen will debut an all-new electric concept car still expected to be a Microbus revival. If the e-Bus rumors prove correct, let's hope VW designers have worked overtime to make the design look anywhere near as beautiful as the Zelectric 1964 electric Microbus we saw in LA.