Flying cars may not be a reality yet but the self-driving cars that are set to hit the streets this year are about to make our daily commute far more like plane travel. Say what?!
When you take the redundant steering wheel and pedals out (as auto makers are planning to do) the seats can be turned into individual couches with massage functions and accompanying screens. Suddenly, you’ve got a business class experience on the road.
BMW is already perfecting this concept with its Designworks department in California now helping sculpt Singapore Airlines’ next-generation First Class cabins. Designworks president Laurenz Schaffer says working with aircraft companies simply made sense when he looked at the future of cars
“I think we’ll have fully automated cars on the road by 2025, with the steering wheel gone, and it will be very much like a flying experience, which is why it helps to work with planes now,” he says.
“We’re already working on customer scenarios; what will people do in those two hours a day they used to spend driving? What will they consume? Who will provide the content and how will we profit-share with the people who provide it?”
While Google and Uber already have self-driving cars in the US in small numbers, the idea of selling them to the public always seemed to be an unending decade in the future. That all changed late last year when Audi announced it would sell a proper “hands-off, eyes-off” car, its new A8 limousine, in 2017.
This is a big jump from systems you might have heard of, like Tesla’s Autopilot, which will drive for you, but demands you keep your hands on the wheel, and your wits about you. What makes these systems possible are the kind of clever cameras we’re already seeing in mass-market cars, like Mazda’s CX-5, which can read traffic signs (speed signs and No Entry or other warning signs) and warn you if you’re going too fast, or the wrong way. Love.
Audi board member Dr Dietmar Voggenreiter says the next-gen A8 with Audi Intelligence will automate the driving experience, freeing drivers to “read a newspaper, check emails or Snapchats” while driving around town at up to 65km/h.
Vitally, Audi has also stated it will take responsibility for any accidents, or injuries, caused by its cars while in autonomous mode, because a driver who’s been allowed to sit and play with their phone can’t be at fault.
If we all become passengers, the big car companies say they see a future in which many vehicles are shared, rather than owned. And as we move into giga-cities, like Tokyo, and garages and car parks become expensive luxuries, they’ll also become redundant and disappear.
If you love driving, the future looks a bit bleak. But the big selling point, as Dr Voggenreiter points out, is 90 per cent of all car accidents are caused by human error, so once the software is good enough to replace loose nuts behind the wheel, the road toll will drop – hopefully to zero. The future is here, people.
SHOP AND DROP
Picture a world in which you don’t own a car so much as call one via a phone app, which then drops you at the local shopping megaplex and then zips off to drive other people around. When you’re ready to go you simply order another one to meet you and take you home.