In a future of autonomous vehicles, sure there will be cars. But, not as we know them.
There has been talk of autonomous vehicles for a while now, but it was at CES earlier this month that the reality of just how soon this new mode of transport is set to become our daily norm really set in. And with the technology in its final test drive stages, car manufacturers are now putting their focus on redefining what the future car will be. Because, as we take our hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, they can no longer simply sell the "driving" experience.
Our seamless mobility Director Ingo Kucz, and Director of Industrial Design Stephan Rein had the chance to try out BMW’s fully autonomous 5-series prototype at CES—a vehicle BMW has dubbed the "Personal CoPilot". Taking it for a spin along a Las Vegas freeway, Ingo says it was comfortable, fluid, and surprisingly easy to sit back, relax and let the car do all the work.
So what to do with this newfound mobile freedom? Here are a few of the main ideas that were revealed at CES, as the big brands set out on their new journey to change the car narrative.
The car as…. A health and wellbeing hub
What happens when you don't have to focus on the road? According to Mercedes Benz, you can focus on your health instead.
Defining the future car as a type of healthcare system, Mercedes has been collaborating with teams of psychologists and doctors to create a mobile health hub. Through sensors in the steering wheel, or by connecting your smart devices to the car, it can read your vital data (e.g., your heartbeat and stress levels) and provide recommendations to boost your wellbeing. This can be anything from suggesting exercises (a kind of digital coach), or that you take a few deep breaths before your next appointment.
This is just the starting point in the company's plan to "put vitality at the center and make sure you feel better when you get out of the car than when you got in." With the pace of biometric advancements, by 2025, it's predicted that built-in technologies will be able to detect things like fatigue through gaze tracking and brain wave monitoring.
If this wasn't enough, beyond simply making recommendations, the Mercedes-Maybach S500 also provided a space to treat your stress and fatigue. In the back of the king-sized car, the seat came alive to provide a deep muscle back massage, complete with aromatherapy, dimmed lights, visuals and controlled airflow. Consider traffic rage a thing of the past.
The car as…. A social space
BMW made a statement with its "sculptural" autonomous display vehicle, and its portrayal of a clear vision for the car to become a social space—like a living room where you can entertain friends.
They were careful to not only focus on the tech, understanding that to feel like a comfortable, homely space, it's necessary to balance analog and digital features. For instance, although they revealed their new innovative tech feature HoloActive Touch—a holograph style display that allows you to view and control entertainment and navigation information in mid-air—there was also a garden under the seat, and bookshelves lining the inside of the doors.
So like with any living room, you can make your guests feel comfortable and also show off your new gadgets.
The car as… A lifelong partner
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of man and machine… When reading Toyota's concept to use AI to transform cars into "more than a machine, a partner," the martial undertones were hard to ignore.
While the vehicle technology becomes more advanced, Toyota wants to give cars a "new soul". And it's doing this with the Concept-i vehicle by enhancing the relationship between car and driver. The more you use the car, the more data it collects about you and can therefore become more attuned to your sensibilities. In Toyota's words, you "grow together," and throughout this process you increasingly feel more connected to the car and think of it as a companion.
Protection was also a big theme: with the use of biometric sensors, the car can do things like predict your mood, and suggest that it takes over (goes fully autonomous) to ensure that you get to your destination safely. Even with the design, the car looked like a big shield that would encase and protect you.
All these scenarios set out to make a statement and, although we may not all be ready to become best buddies with our car or let it tell us how to live our lives, it did open our eyes to just how much our experience of travel and mobility is set to change in the future. It was also promising to see that the focus wasn't always on the next best impressive high-tech feature, but more about the personalized experience, and incorporating tech into our human lives. That the car manufacturers get it: it’s just as much about the man as it is about the machine.