Volvo explores autonomy with Concept 26
The march – or roll – of the autonomous vehicle continues. Joining the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Chevy, Italdesign and Rinspeed, Volvo has created a home-cooked version of the autonomous car of the future. The Swedish automaker drives right to the heart of the matter, skipping the body shell completely and focusing solely on an interior that transforms to allow the driver-passenger to better manage commuting time.
Before developing Concept 26, Volvo researched daily commuting in the United States and the way drivers want to use their time behind the wheel within an autonomous paradigm. It found that the average commute is 26 minutes and can rise much higher in dense, high-traffic metropolises like New York and Los Angeles, the latter's Auto Show being the debut venue of the new concept.
Volvo's concept cockpit aims at empowering drivers to make better use of that time, time that would traditionally be spent tap dancing between the accelerator and brake pedal and eyeballing traffic signs and brake lights.
"Volvo Concept 26 addresses the notion that driving can still be fun and liberating on the right day and on the right road but that some parts of driving, notably the daily commute in many metro areas, is stressful, frustrating and even broken," explains Anders Tylman-Mikiewicz, GM of the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center, which developed the Concept 26. "By providing drivers the choice of when to drive or delegate driving, we are able to retain the love and freedom of the open road while fixing the broken commute."
In the past, concept designers have worked with a similar multipurpose drive/delegate focus, creating interiors that transform by way of swiveling front seats and robotic steering columns. Volvo takes that type of transformation one step further in the Concept 26 cockpit. In "Drive" mode, the design looks like your regular two-seat driver/passenger compartment, complete with dashboard, center console touchscreen and digital instrument panel. From there, it transforms dramatically by way of a flip-up 25-in display and fold-out tray table.
In "Create" mode, the Concept 26 provides an adjustable platform to help the driver use their time productively. Various seat, table and screen configurations allow him or her to read, browse the Web, check messages, work on projects and more. With two productive commutes like that a day, he or she could potentially cut down on the time spent in the office.
Some drivers might not be so eager to jump into the workday with both feet, preferring to use the commute as a way of easing into the day (or extending the sleepy night). For them, the Concept 26 offers "Relax" mode, where the driver's seat reclines back into a position comfy enough for lounging or napping. Should that driver want to enjoy some content while relaxing, the onboard computer system can find and suggest things to watch on the passenger-side display. The seat would presumably be packed full of micro-adjustability and massage features in production.
We took a look at the Concept 26 and its automatic transformation at the LA Auto Show. While the concept is based on Volvo's real-life Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), it definitely feels more like an early evolving vision than a production preview. Volvo hopes the concept will spark interest among car consumers, and it's launched the website www.futureofdriving.com for folks to sound off on their own autonomous ideas and preferences. As part of its ongoing autonomous research, Volvo still plans on putting 100 Swedish drivers into its autonomous vehicles in 2017, a big next step in its DriveMe project.
The Volvo video below brings the functions, features and design process of the Concept 26 to life.
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The only way this vehicle should be allowed on the streets in its current form is to restrict it to dedicated lanes free of any vehicle that is not under autonomous control. It probably won't even be possible to use it in semi-autonomous mode because it would not cope with the surprise of a vehicle suddenly doing something like skidding on ice or aquaplaning on standing water into its path. "But the car can steer itself out of the way!" Yeah, right, sure it can; autonomous lanes will be de-iced by heating elements and particularly well drained.
Don't forget, these autonomous vehicles are going to have to live with non-autonomous vehicles as the fleet swaps over. This will take about twenty-five years, so during that time all the algorithms that rely on vehicle to vehicle communication will have to wait until they can be guaranteed to work.
And what happens if some little bundle of fun thinks it a good idea to jam the GPS signal? I imagine it will keep the local A & E departments busy.
Let's take it further: by some miracle cars become mechanically perfect, software works perfectly and a new generation of 'drivers' sit like the Dip-Stick in the Volvo reading a book. With time the 'driver' forgets how to drive, does not know for example how hard to press the brake to stop safely because this autonomous beast has been doing it for him for a couple of years. On a fateful day a sensor or something (analog or digital) fails and the driver needs to take over immediately. Can you seriously imagine the now inexperienced driver taking control, in time, skilfully and safely maneuvering a 2 ton lump of metal travelling at high speed when summoned to do so? Or will he hit a panic button and snarl up the traffic because he is nothing but a passenger?
The near future lies in semi-autonomous, HUD etc assisted vehicles where the driver is ALWAYS at the wheel and the car takes over if the driver veers out of lane or does not slow down fast enough - in other words a correction system. See this sensible approach: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/538421/should-we-blur-the-line-between-human-and-computer-driving/