Sky’s the limit for self-driving cars   | Daily News


Sky’s the limit for self-driving cars  

You’ll sit at tables, under ambient lighting, getting help from voice assistants as you stretch out your legs in reclining seats. And that’s appealing to many who already know they want to sleep, send emails or play video games as they zip down the road in a car that operates itself. 

With self-driving vehicles on the horizon, automakers are rethinking what the future of car interiors will look like. And because these completely autonomous cars, called Level 5 vehicles, will free drivers from focusing on the highway, companies are now free to experiment. 

And that means premium cars could be loaded with tech that makes workers’ commutes more posh, passive and personalized than ever before. Picture a pod hotel room — on wheels. 

Automakers like BMW, Nissan and General Motors, for example, have shown off prototype vehicles with onboard voice assistants, smart temperature controls and modular seating, suggesting there will be little difference between your car interior and your smart home. 

“It’s fair to say that living room environments, very personal home environments and boutique hotels are inspiring [us] when we design the interior of the car in the future,” says Holger Hampf, president of BMW Group’s Designworks.

And while the timeline for self-driving cars is unclear and their costs appear high —  perhaps adding US$ 100,000 to the price tag of a vehicle — at least one study shows people are willing to pay more to let their cars drive themselves. 

Fully autonomous vehicles aren’t on the roads yet. But some smart cars are already letting drivers ease up behind the wheel by offering collision avoidance features. Most notably Tesla’s Autopilot is a driver-assistance system that has lane centering, adaptive cruise control and lets the car navigate autonomously on limited-access freeways.

Two examples of the trend toward mobile living rooms appeared in January at CES in Las Vegas, one of the world’s largest tech shows. BMW’s i3 Urban Suite concept car featured a seating layout configured for the rideshare trips of your sci-fi fantasies.

The driving seat, dashboard and steering wheel inside the concept car looked unremarkable. But the German carmaker had transformed the passenger seat into a cozy, personalized sitting room that harked back to fancy airline cabins.

The car has room for two people: a driver in the traditional steering position and a rear passenger who has most of the car to lounge in. Instead of a second rear seat, there’s a side table and hi-tech lamp. There’s also an adjustable footrest. 

The company also showed an automobile called the i Interaction EASE, which was a bridge between a camper and a car. The exterior looked like a futuristic microwave – a sleek, white rectangle with a semitransparent glass door. The cockpit, however, was designed for a time when self-driving cars become mainstream.

Gesture controls replaced buttons. The seats were touch-sensitive and there was an Ease Mode, which lets the seats back into a “zero-gravity” reclining position so they lean 60-degrees.

GM showed the world that it’s rethinking how seats will be positioned when it debuted its Cruise Origin in January. The van-like concept vehicle has seats facing each other so riders can “relax, work or connect,” the automaker said. 

In 2019, Nissan created an elevated sports sedan concept that the company calls a “premium hotel lounge-like space.”

The Nissan IMs’ exterior silhouette looks like a car that could be on the road today. But the convertible interior is something completely new. 

The sedan could seat up to five people. The sides of the rear seat fold-down, giving the center passenger armrests in a more executive-style arrangement. When the car is in self-driving mode, the driver can shift to this space to relax or get some work done.

Drivers want more privacy, greater comfort and connectivity, making car cabins more important to buyers than powertrain and exterior appearance, a 2018 McKinsey survey found.

Car buyers said they wanted more control over internal environments, smarter traffic alert systems and the ability to be productive from the back seat. They also want multipurpose cabins that support their evolving lifestyles, which could include driving for a rideshare company or thinking about leasing the car into a fleet of smart taxis.  

Before motorists can completely turn attention away from the road ahead, cars need to be able to connect to surrounding infrastructure.

That’s where 5G connectivity and smart cities fit into the equation, enabling vehicles to make instantaneous and complex decisions based on their surroundings.

(USA Today)

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