Ready or not, here they come — the self driving cars of the future. Elon Musk is cracking the whip over at Tesla Motors to make the Model 3 self driving capable by the time it debuts late next year. Uber will start ferrying people around in self driving Volve XC 90s within the month. Self driving taxis are coming to the streets of Singapore soon. Today, most of the chatter in the automotive press focuses more on autonomous technology than it does on electric cars. Everybody is simply gaga about how our cars will soon drive themselves with no human input whatsoever.
A few curmudgeons like me may question whether we need fully autonomous cars all that badly. I have seen some reports that suggest the average car shopper is not waking up every morning hoping today is the day he or she can purchase a self driving car. But they are coming, come hell or high water.
Many car makers really don’t make cars any more. They assemble component parts made by other companies, then slap their name plate on the back when the job is done. One of the world’s largest suppliers is Faurecia. Partly owned by the Peugeot Citroen group, it specializes in automotive seats and interiors. At its xWorks facility in Holland, Michigan, it is working to discern future mobility trends beyond 2020. Much of its time it devoted to research, trying to predict how self driving technology could change the look, feel and function of interiors.
Matt Benson is head of ventures and advanced innovation at the company. He tells Automotive News, “One of our challenges is to create more flexibility in the cockpit of the future — make it more intuitive and predictive.” His colleague, Rob Huber, says they are working on an “active wellness” seat. It will use biometric sensors and predictive analytics to measure and respond to occupant stress, drowsiness, and other conditions.
Presumably, if you are frazzled after a long day at work, the system will darken the windows, activate soft lighting, and lull you with New Age music featuring Peruvian pan flutes. On the other hand, if you are sleepy, pulsating strobe lights and some Seattle grunge music may be just what the doctor ordered.
Self driving cars will bring with them a dramatic increase in ride sharing services. Which raises a question about how to make interiors that will be self cleaning. People will probably leave gum wrappers, food, and other items to hideous to contemplate behind when they exit the vehicles. Benson didn’t have much to say on that topic other than it is part of the range of issues that needs to be addressed.
Benson says his team is working to anticipate the “new behaviors” they expect people riding in self driving cars will engage in. “Some of the things that people said they expect to do in fully autonomous and shared vehicles are crazy,” he says. Freed from the drudgery of actually driving the car, people say they will play the guitar, do yoga, cardio exercise or knit. That’s in addition to shaving, putting on makeup or even watching a video, which some drivers do now anyway.
Self driving cars are expected to end the monotony of commuting. A lot of the impetus behind this new technology is a desire to reduce congestion in our cities. If that it truly the goal, it would make a lot more sense to simply eliminate going to an office to work, thus doing away with the need to commute entirely. It’s unlikely the world’s car makers would think very highly of that idea.