Cars probably won't fly in our lifetimes, but they will go autonomous. That's pretty much a lock at this point. Nearly every automaker is working to advance their self-driving technology. But one thing that doesn't get much consideration is this: With no need for human control, what will the interior of the future look like?
One of the current leaders in autonomous cars, Mercedes-Benz, has some idea. They think interiors of future cars will be more like your living room, complete with a coffee table so you and your friends can drink coffee or eat nachos or whatever while the car handles the driving.
These are the concept drawings Mercedes unveiled at the TecDay "Autonomous Mobility" event in California recently. Here's what they're thinking:
Autonomous vehicles will be commonplace and socially accepted in the cities of the future. This new dimension in mobility will be accompanied by social and technical changes. With the new luxury-class interior concept, the car of the future will be more than purely a means of transport – rather, it will become a variable and private area of retreat in increasingly dense urban traffic. By virtue of this new form of travel, the occupants of autonomous vehicles will have the freedom to put their time spent traveling to even more varied use.
The centerpiece of their idea for a future autonomous luxury sedan is what they call the "variable seating system," which has four rotating lounge chairs that allow for face-to-face conversation with front and back row passengers. That also allows the front occupants to swivel around for manual driving, as "an extendable steering wheel offers the driver the appropriate options" for that.
"Option." That's what car companies will call "driving" in the future. That's going to take some getting used to.
They're definitely not the first to try this idea, just the latest. But Benz's idea is more than just sticking a table in the center of the car and calling it a day. They say the entire compartment has been optimized for this kind of driving/riding with displays and controls throughout that allow the occupants to interact with the vehicle and the outside world.
The interior becomes a "digital living space" which is comprehensively networked as an integral part of the intelligent vehicle system. The occupants are able to interact intuitively with the vehicle by means of gestures or touch displays. The system automatically recognises the wishes of individual occupants for information or the selection of control functions by sensor detection of eye, hand and finger movements. The vehicle's surroundings, whether pedestrians, other road users or the local buildings, are also brought into the interior and portrayed as fluid all-round information on displays.
Right now, it's just concept art. But with modern cars already displaying various autonomous safety functions, and driverless S-Class sedans testing all over the place, this idea may not be so far off. At any rate, we should expect a major shift in interior design to come with the self-driving cars of the coming future.