Rinspeed shows what the self-driving car will be like to ride in
Autonomous driving has consistently made headlines throughout 2013, with car companies showcasing development vehicles and detailing individual components that will help usher in the era of the self-driving car, like adaptive cruise control and self-parking systems. But, if they really want to get us excited about autonomous technology, what they should be doing is showing us a clear vision of what all those technologies are leading to: a car that drives itself while you drink your coffee and read the paper as if you're still in your recliner at home. That's the tack automotive think tank Rinspeed has taken with its new XchangE concept car.
Rinspeed has a long history of revealing forward-thinking concepts at the Geneva Motor Show, most recently the microMAX urban vehicle and Dock+Go expandable car. Now it has turned its attention to the frontier of autonomous driving.
"So far hardly anyone has taken this to its logical conclusion from the perspective of the driver," explains Rinspeed chief Frank Rinderknecht. "After all, traveling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way."
We were intrigued by what Zoox had to say on the matter, and it's nice to see someone else weigh in. Rinspeed leaves the actual self-driving technologies to the auto manufacturers, focusing entirely on the user experience.
The XchangE electric touring sedan's cabin includes two rows of two seats. The front seats can either face forward traditionally or spin around to face the rear seats. The seats themselves are inspired by the comfortable, adjustable seats you'd expect to find in the business class of an airplane. From the looks of it, the front seats feature enough reclining to put you in near-prone position.
As tempting as it may be, not everyone will have the desire or ability to take a nap during the ride. The XchangE also includes a multimedia system for listening to music, surfing the Web, watching video content and playing games.
The XchangE appears to be conceived as a car that could completely drive itself from point A to B, but it is equipped with a steering wheel, presumably so the occupants can take over driving duties if they choose.
"And to make sure the steering wheel is not a hindrance, it can simply be "parked" in the middle of the dashboard, courtesy of state-of-the-art 'steer-by-wire' technology that can also be found on modern jet aircraft," says Rinspeed.
That's all Rinspeed has to say about the new concept for now, but hopefully it will have more information as Geneva's March 4 press opening approaches.
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My only concern around the design of these fully autonomous vehicles is how seats are able to rotate mid flight, because while seating backwards is actually safer then forward (think baby seats), sideways is dangerous.
To elaborate, I had a nice conversation with a police officer some time back, and he pointed out that a good percentage of road fatalities from broken necks were from drivers looking out the side at time of impact. ie - if your neck is not straight or if the dominant forces are not coming from the front or back, you have little strength in the neck to support the head. Hence broken neck.
So for this design, I hope they are considering incorporating a kill switch in the vehicle such that the vehicle will not start unless the seats are locked in forward or back facing positions. And cannot be rotated mid flight.
I suspect that this technology will develop as far as providing assistance to the driver in order to enable them to drive in a safe fashion, while being available to take over when the technology is faced with the inevitable wtf situation. The first any 'driver' facing rearwards would know of such might well also be the last they know of it.
Let's face it, we know that aircraft can fly autonomously today, yet there are no passenger carrying versions in use, and they operate in a tightly controlled environment where stray dogs, errant children and falling trees are extremely rare occurrences.
One can envisage a situation where vehicles equipped with this technology were specifically designated for those older members of society whose driving ability was not up to par for general use, but quite acceptable for urban situations, though I would still not like the idea of the designated 'driver' being allowed to sit facing rearwards. They must retain some function that requires them to monitor the road situation and be ready to act should the need arise, such as being required to drive the wrong way along a carriageway at the direction of a police officer who is controlling traffic around some incident that has blocked the other carriageway.
Another thought is that terrorists or pranksters might just find a way of hacking or interfering with the control system, with potentially catastrophic results, especially if the driver is asleep with his seat in the fully prone condition. The upside is that he/she would be in an ideal position to change the oil in the back axle of the lorry they have just run into the back of, though avoiding the lorry altogether has to be preferable, and they will only stand a chance of doing that if they are watching the road and everything going on, both on and around it.
Granted, under ideal circumstances, it ought to work. It might even assist safety in white-out situations if the radar detects the speed and presence of other vehicles ahead AND behind, but frankly I doubt it can actually handle this properly as there are too many unmeasured variables.
If you can't or don't want to drive, take a bus, I don't want you on my road, sailing along oblivious to what's happening and when things go wrong, blaming the vehicle and its controls.
Sure, there will still be the potential for accidents, but that potential will be FAR less (very close to zero) than when humans are at the wheel. When all cars are computing, communicating, and sharing all parameters, and with failsafes built into the roads "driving" will not be driving anymore; it will be transporting/riding. Even re-routing can be automated. Your concerns are for a transitioning society and unfounded for a fully-automated one. Hacking is a concern, NOW, but hopefully in the era of fully-automated transport, systems will be secured quantum-ly.
basically, one just enter the vehicle, say / input the destination, then the vehicle will communicate with traffic controller and decide the route. the person will have the ability to switch to manual at anytime, including kill switch.
these vehicles are perfect for taxi cab, but driverless. the energy will be renewable by itself. if one is about to go somewhere, he just simply order the car, online. the closest vacant car will arrive, and take him to destination. and so on.
for safety, apart from the traffic controller, the vehicle already has tons of sensors, it should be able to avoid accident. today's technology already closing in on that. by the time this tech is implemented, cars should already be very very safe.
for security, well let's just say, there's no terrorists in the future, it's a happy place, why bother. besides, if the state can protect critical system like traffic light, electric lines, metro rail, why should this be any different?