They are going to be a lot more than just cars that drive themselves.
We’re giving a free annual subscription to the TreeHugger newsletter to the first person who tells us where this Volvo 360C is parked. But ignore the ground-breaking building and look at the ground-breaking car. Since we started covering autonomous cars, I have suggested that they would soon look very different, and would morph into moving living rooms. That is essentially what this Volvo is and more: "The 360c presents four potential uses of autonomous driving vehicles – a sleeping environment, mobile office, living room and entertainment space – which all reimagine the way people travel." As Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars, notes in a press release:
Autonomous drive will allow us to take the big next step in safety but also open up exciting new business models and allow consumers to spend time in the car doing what they want to do.
There are many, including me, who think that autonomous cars will never work in cities, there is too much going on and too many pesky human beings walking around. But highways between cities are a different story. One might well imagine getting into a vehicle one evening and waking up in another city the next morning. Volvo is thinking that their car might do that.
“Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t. The 360c represents what could be a whole new take on the industry,” said Mårten Levenstam, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars. “The sleeping cabin allows you to enjoy premium comfort and peaceful travel through the night and wake up refreshed at your destination. It could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers.”
Sleeping while you travel is not exactly a new concept; I know of one engineer who lives in Scotland and does meetings in London after taking a sleeper train. There are sleeper buses that run between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There already are comfy alternatives to flying. But still, I really like Volvo’s thinking here -- that the AV is not just a car that drives itself but a different form of transport that will have big implications, if it ever actually works.
The 360c also carries implications for the future of travel, city planning, infrastructure and modern society’s environmental footprint. It does not just reimagine how people travel but also looks at how people engage with friends and family while on the move, and how they can recapture time while travelling in the cities of the future.
The design is actually less interesting than the press release, with all its interesting questions. I suspect that a vehicle travelling between cities needs a loo, and will look more like an RV than the 360c. But we have been saying all along that nobody knows what true autonomous vehicles will look like.
“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” said Mårten Levenstam. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more.”
It certainly is that.