Volvo wants to have an autonomous car that you can “eat, sleep, do whatever” in by 2021, an aggressive target but one illustrative of the company’s desire to skip over Level 3 altogether and go straight to full autonomy. Today, it showed off a concept car called the 360c that reveals a bit more about how it plans to do that.
The electric, autonomous 360c looks decent to my eye, but more important is what’s inside, headlined by a new system of lights and sounds to signal to pedestrians and other drivers on the road what the autonomous car intends to do, a system which Volvo hopes will become universal. Ever true to its reputation, Volvo says it’s designing autonomy with safety front and center, as it tries to account for the fact that autonomous cars will have to interact with human-driven cars for years after their introduction.
The signaling system is an attempt to tackle the problem of not what the autonomous car could do wrong, but what everyone else might get wrong. Say, for example, you pull up to a stop sign while another car simultaneously pulls up to a stop sign across the street. How might you negotiate this? With eye contact and a wave, perhaps, but autonomous cars have neither eyes nor hands, which could lead to confusion. And so in addition to things cars already have, like turn signals, Volvo’s concept has a series of cool Future Sounds to telegraph the car’s intentions, also useful for pedestrians.
Here’s a video explaining it.
One thing Volvo says the system will never do is instruct other drivers on what to do, as you might allow someone to go first at a stop sign if you’re trying to be courteous. Which seems prudent, even though the idea of an autonomous car yelling at other drivers on the road did make me laugh, because it would own if autonomous cars all had the gumption of C-3PO.
On the inside, the 360c Volvo can be pretty much anything you want, including a bedroom. Volvo says the 360c has restraint system devised just for laying down, in conjunction with “a special safety blanket.”
The whole thing comes out looking like a first-class seat in an airplane:
Which was probably intentional, since Volvo, a bit bombastically, predicts that the 360c “could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers.” In this scenario, people would opt for an autonomous car over a commercial plane, especially on shorter routes. Which, perhaps! Though surely Volvo isn’t the only car company in the world who’s thought of this.