Flying cars may not be a reality yet, but the self-driving cars set to hit the streets this year are about to make our daily commute more like plane travel.
For when you take the redundant steering wheel and pedals out of a car (as auto makers are already planning to do), the seats can be turned into couches with massage functions and accompanying screens. Suddenly you’ve got a business class experience on the road.
German giant BMW is already perfecting this scenario – its special Designworks department in California is helping sculpt Singapore Airlines’ new first class cabins. Designworks president Laurenz Schaffer says working with airlines 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,” 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’ll provide the content and how will we be able to profit share with people who provide it?”
While Google (with its Waymo) and Uber have a small number of self-driving cars on the roads in the US, the idea of selling them to the public always seemed like it was decades away. That changed late last year when Audi announced it would sell a proper “hands-off, eyes-off” car, the A8, in 2017.
This is a big jump from systems like Tesla’s Autopilot, which will drive for you, but demands you keep your hands on the wheel. What makes these new systems possible are the clever cameras we’re already seeing in mass-market cars like Mazda’s CX-5, which can read traffic signs and warn you if you’re going too fast.
You’ll be able to take your hands off and the car will do the braking, the accelerating, the changing lanes and you can really read a book or whatever you want to doDr Dietmar Voggenreiter
Audi board member Dr Dietmar Voggenreiter says the A8 with Audi Intelligence will completely automate the driving experience, freeing up drivers to “read a newspaper, check their emails or do their Snapchats” while driving up to 65km/h.
“You’ll be able to take your hands off and the car will do the braking, the accelerating, the changing lanes and you can really read a book or whatever you want to do,” he says.
Audi has also stated it will take full legal 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 effectively become passengers, car companies say they see a future in which many of its vehicles are “on call”, rather than owned. Garages could become expensive luxuries and disappear.
If you love driving, the future looks more bleak than exciting, but as Dr Voggenreiter points out, the big selling point is 90 per cent of all car accidents are caused by human error, so once the software is good enough to replace humans, the road toll will drop – hopefully to zero.
The future is here.
Picture a world in which you don’t own a car but rather call one via a smartphone app, which drops you at the local shopping megaplex and then zips off to drive other people around. When you’re ready to leave, you simply order another one to meet you at the door and take you home.