Are We Nearly There Yet?

05 Feb 2014|Added Value

It’s a phrase synonymous with children and long car journeys. But what was it that urged us to voice “are we nearly there yet?” when we were kids? Was it boredom? Frustration? It was probably both. And throughout the years the passenger experience has seen only marginal progression; aided mostly by in-car entertainment or simply better quality, more comfortable seating. These tiny, evolutionary design steps have improved our experience, but not radicalised it.

What if the thought of a long car journey didn’t fill you with dread, but instead something much more enjoyable? Applying better design thinking to vehicle interiors has the potential to do just that. It could transform our entire appreciation of passenger car travel, but it is technology that will liberate this change. In particular, driverless technology.

The last decade has seen a rapid climb in car evolution and the industry is awash with debate and experimentation. The connected car has become a staple for most newly-manufactured vehicles, ensuring that we’re now permanently ‘wired-in’. The emergence of crossover vehicles has exploded. Not to mention car-makers launching hybrids, fuel cells and electrics left, right and centre. Some with more vigour and confidence than others.

This influx of digital technology, new engine systems, and all-together new models has prompted many to question what the future really holds. If the future will even include cars at all. The latter is more of a long-term question, whereas driverless cars are in fact a more immediate consideration.

Despite all of this debate, autonomous technology is the one topic that nearly all mainstream manufacturers agree, will be the future. So much so that brands ranging from Ford and Nissan, to BMW and Audi are all making substantial investments in driverless R&D.

Most would argue that its benefits are largely functional; satisfying a much-needed requirement for improved safety, better driving efficiency, and appeasing the lack of need for a driving licence. Although true, this type of technology could deliver something far greater and much more powerful.

Driverless technology will change the way car interiors are designed. And it’s this change that will elevate the current driver and passenger experience to become something more immersive and social. Having the option to face inwards, for example, to have more face-to-face interaction with those around you, will akin taking a car journey to sitting around the dinner table with your family. It’s an idea that is currently being imagined, as illustrated by Rinspeed’s Xchangconcept.

 driverless

 

It’s all speculation at this stage but it might even eradicate the pressure and associated burden of actually driving a car, reducing our stress levels and ultimately helping us to live healthier lives. Our experience will be more associated with that of the private chauffeur; one that is currently reserved for the wealthy few. The ‘designated driver’ will become a thing of the past and it will open up opportunities for those less able to drive. Not to mention the direct impact it will have on reducing car-related deaths, which currently amount to over 1.2 million per year, globally.

The full extent of how beneficial this will be is yet to be fully recognised, but it’s certainly one of the biggest, most influential game-changers that we’ve seen since the dawn of the personal car.

Like any significant change, this is not without barriers, and in this case, it seems to be largely an administrative one, which poses the biggest threat. From a functional point of view, much of the required technology, such as on-board radar and 3D stereoscopic cameras, already exists and is operational in cars like the Mercedes Benz S500.

But it does seem likely that this will be a short-lived obstacle. As demonstrated by both the UK and the US.  The UK government has already stated that it wants to be a world centre for driverless cars and is due to embark on a legislative and regulatory review in 2014. And with initial trials planned for the city of Milton Keynes in 2015, their ambition is swiftly becoming a reality. As well as this, Google has already developed driverless technology, which they’ve road-tested on a number of vehicles ranging from the Toyota Prius and Audi TT to the Lexus RX450h, which has been helped out by the US government who has already legalised autonomous cars in the states of Florida, Nevada and California.

The bulk of car manufacturers claim that they will have driverless vehicles available for sale by around 2020-2025 but Tesla and Google are the current front-runners, expecting to have theirs fully road-ready by 2016 and 2017, respectively. The race really is now on to have these available.

So whilst we all ponder the inevitable or argue which brand will in fact be the first; one thing is certain. We are nearly there. And perhaps that dreaded expression will soon be a thing of the past.

Written by Joe Heard at Added Value UK

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