A New Passenger Experience with Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous Car Concept

In 2019, automated vehicles (AVs) have been a frequent sight in news headlines, particularly the announcements of new partnerships between firms, and ever increasing rounds of funding. However, even as articles delineate the complex technological breakthroughs and the tools needed for fully automated vehicles to come about, two questions remain unanswered. What exactly will automated cars look like? What will the passenger experience be?

To answer these questions, we first have to understand the changes that automation will bring about. Vehicle automation is categorized into tiers, with true automation being the two highest, Level 4 and Level 5. A Level 4 vehicle can drive itself save under extreme conditions, like a heavy blizzard or on a rural dirt road, while a Level 5 vehicle can drive itself as capably as a human driver, under any conditions. Most cars on the road today have Level 0 Automation, in which the driver’s constant attention is required to operate the car safely.

High profile companies such as Tesla, trumpet ‘Autopilot’ and ‘Full Self Driving’ options for its cars, however these terms are largely misleading, since these systems do not allow Tesla cars to operate independently. Rather, they are Level 2 autonomous vehicles in which the car can steer, accelerate and break on its own, but only in a limited number of situations. Nevertheless, the driver’s full attention is still required at all times in Level 2 vehicles.

When Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles eventually materialize, drivers will no longer be a necessity, and safety requirements will likely change. For example, it is currently required to have a forward-facing front seats so that the driver can see the car’s surroundings and navigate the car. Without this requirement, the interior configuration of cars can be radically altered, and so will the passenger experience. Below are a few notable examples of what future cars could look like, the first being an image from Bentley.

Autonomous Car Concept from Bentley

Image Source: automobilemag.com

Now that you no longer need to drive, is there anything better than a moving living room that allows you to unwind and relax during the journey? The image above is a concept by Bentley, a luxury automaker based in the UK. Just like your own living room, the driverless car becomes a space to spend time with friends and family, have drinks or snacks, or simply settle down to read a good book. Interestingly, there is a holographic display on the dining table — fitting for a business executive taking calls on the road, hinting at new forms of communication that could be incorporated into AVs.

If an AV can be a living room on wheels, why can’t it be a mobile office, or a mobile bedroom? In the image below, Swedish automaker Volvo presents its 360c concept vehicle as an AV that is capable of being any room in your home. While a mobile office may not appear that much different from a mobile living room (apart from having taller tables perhaps), Volvo’s visualization of a mobile bedroom adds a new dimension to the potential of AVs. Volvo presents a plush bedroom, fitted with a proper bed, a small cabinet for one’s clothes and personal belongings, as well as a small chair.

Travelling red-eye is not only a cost-effective way of saving money on accommodation, but also saves time. While many travelers already take overnight buses, accidents occur from time to time when the bus driver dozes off behind the wheel. AVs could thus become a new, safer alternative for mid to long-distance travels — imagine being productive by travelling while asleep.

Autonomous Car Concept from Volvo

Image Source: Volvo

With constant advancements in autonomous driving technology, it seems more a question of when, not if AVs will eventually materialize. While there appears to be a long way to go, it is certain that AVs have the potential to fundamentally transform the way we approach mobility, similar to how smartphones have revolutionized the way we communicate with one another. Now that our attention is no longer needed for driving on the road, media and entertainment will become a necessary feature for passengers on long journeys. AVs promise a new personalized, immersive entertainment experience, all of which will be covered in our next article.

Written by Joey Cheng, Intern at VIA Technologies, Inc.

VIA Technologies, Inc.