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Rinspeed's Wacky New Concept Has The Best Idea For Autonomous Cars Yet

Illustration for article titled Rinspeeds Wacky New Concept Has The Best Idea For Autonomous Cars Yet

I have to admit that I’m a sucker for any car company that references R2-D2 in their press release, but I think I’d be a fan of the new Rinspeed Oasis concept even if they released a totally droid-less statement to the world. That’s because this car shows they understand the coming autonomous world better than almost anyone.

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While companies like Google are doing a lot of remarkable work on the technical side of autonomous vehicles, so far it doesn’t feel like anyone is really thinking about how we’ll live with and use these autonomous cars when we actually have them. Google’s car has no controls, but other than that, on the inside, it’s still just forward-facing seats in a box, like any other car. When you’re inside, you just kind of hang out! Rinspeed’s Oasis seems to be doing a lot more.

First off, you’ll notice the Oasis is a one-box, van-like vehicle. I’ve long believed a van-like vehicle makes the most sense for an autonomous vehicle, because once you’re freed from the job of driving, a car will really become a mobile room-on-wheels. And Rinspeed seems to have figured that out.

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While it’s just a two-person city car, there’s a lot of room inside the Oasis. Here’s what they describe:

The interior offers a new living space with the ambience of a modern-day family room: armchair, sideboard, TV, and a multifunctional steering wheel, of course. The windshield also serves as a screen for virtual as well as augmented reality.

I suppose the presence of a steering wheel (though it looks like it doubles as a little dining table) means a human can drive it if needed, so that’s good. But when you’re not driving, armchairs and a little table make a hell of a lot of sense. The windshield as big augmented-reality screen is typical show-car techno-goofiness, but who knows? If the windshield can become a screen, you can be sure as hell people will use it that way.

Illustration for article titled Rinspeeds Wacky New Concept Has The Best Idea For Autonomous Cars Yet
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I think, though what makes me most taken with Rinspeed’s approach is what’s suggested in this part of their release:

Rinspeed boss Rinderknecht has designed and equipped the vehicle in a way that keeps all conceivable options open in a society willing to share its goods sensibly. “Oasis” can be commuting or shopping car in the morning, act as a “micro delivery vehicle” for urban parcel services in the afternoon, and be a pizza taxi on the evening drive home. This is made possible by a clever code-protected “drawer” in the rear, which can also be cooled or heated as needed. Why move only people in an innovative way with disruptive technology and not also small consignments (at the same time)?

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Autonomous cars will be the first actual robots that will be deployed into society in any real quantity, and the idea that they’ll be useful for just one thing is just us stuck thinking about robots as cars.

When they can drive themselves, they can do things for you! The inclusion of that heated/cooled/multipurpose, code-activated cargo drawer is very smart, because it means the car has a secure way to do your errands.

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You order food, send the restaurant the drawer code, send the car to get the food, the restaurant can securely load it while all your stuff inside the car remains safe. Brilliant!

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This is roughly the sort of thing I was getting at with my Apple car idea: car as a personal errand/delivery robot. Let’s let the machines take care of all those boring trips to Target and the drugstore! I have old, oil-dripping human-driven cars I’d rather waste my time on.

There’s other fun details to the car, too, like the ability for it to swivel in place, and an area in front of the dash, under the windshield, that can be used a sort of little greenhouse. I can think of a lot worse things to do while stuck in traffic than tending a little patch of dashboard tomatoes.

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This is what I like to see in a concept car: real ideas, not just dramatic styling concepts that we’ll only see as watered-down ghosts.

I’m curious to see the actual concept in reality. Oh, and I’d suggest that there be an option to make those doors (and windows) opaque. Once a car becomes a room on wheels, all bets are off for what people will be doing in there.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

One thing I dread about autonomous cars is the likelihood that employers will see commute time as productive work time. Access your work accounts while on your way, check e-mails, make calls, video conference, and more or less add another hour to your work day.

My commute is one of my favorite parts of my work day, even during the winter when I’m stuck driving the wife’s CUV. If I’m going to be connected and expected to be productive during this time, that would be a very sad commute indeed.

Hopefully I’m wrong, however I’ve seen more and more companies trying to do more with less and having a worker who is freed up to answer emails and calls while “they are already coming to work anyway” seems like an excuse for management to factor that time into productivity tables (or whatever horsehit metric they use to calculate workload).