I have to hand it to Rinspeed. The Swiss company that's usually best known for creating delightfully bonkers concept cars has a new concept for an autonomous car, Budii. And, while it's still a bit bonkers, it realizes something about autonomous cars that most carmakers still haven't accepted: An autonomous car is a robot first, a car second.
I think what makes the Budii so interesting, aside from its goofy name, is that Rinspeed is talking about it in terms like this:
The Swiss company will show the world what such a learning and personalized "friend on wheels" might look like at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show with the trans-urban "Budii" concept car. The electrically powered eye-catcher is intended to become the driver's "best buddy," and its autopilot the perfect chauffeur that quickly adapts to the habits and preferences of its "boss."
Now, sure, the actual wording is the sort of cloying cutesy PR-talk that many doctors use to induce vomiting in cases of poison ingestion, but this is the first time I've heard a car-maker (even a 'think-tank' low-volume/concept maker like Rinsed) describe their autonomous cars in terms not strictly categorizing them as a car. Because, really, these will be robots that happen to be able to take us places.
The concept, which has styling that seems derived from a BMW i3, has a novel control system where the steering wheel is set on a robotic arm that allows it to be placed in front of either front seat, or folded out of the way in the middle for autonomous operation.
The foldable wheel provides an excellent, easy-to-understand mechanism for going between autonomous and manual modes, and is a solid idea for a standardized autonomous car control interface, I think.
If you want to meet Budii and ask him if WALL-E is as cool in person as you hope, head out to the 2015 Geneva auto show.