Concept 26 is not a pretentious farm-to-table restaurant that changes its menu every two weeks, though its ideals are as lofty. The name of Volvo’s new take on autonomous driving refers to the soul-sucking 26 minutes that the average US commuter spends on limited-access highways or in other unchallenging driving conditions — time that Volvo wants to give back to you.
Boring driving is ideal for autonomous driving, since lanes are well marked, pedestrians and bikes (and kangaroos) are absent, and speed and space between cars is fairly predictable. Highway time also seems to be when we humans are most happy to give up the wheel, because really, what is death compared to an hour on the Turnpike?
For all the sleek showiness of Volvo’s forays into autonomy and aristocratic luxury, the Swedish stalwart still seems to be making each step toward the future a deliberate and well considered one.
Concept 26 is a cockpit design that responds to three distinct operational modes: “Drive,” in which you do just that; “Create,” in which the car takes over and you may work, surf the web, or watch a movie; and “Relax,” in which the driver’s seat reclines into a chaiselike position, and which is assiduously never called “Nap mode” in official communiqués. As you switch among modes (this being Volvo, there are all sorts of safety warnings and foolproof handshakes as driving responsibilities change), a large screen rotates out of the passenger dash, a footrest rises from beneath the driver’s seat, and a tray table deploys as the steering wheel recedes. Changing up the interior is not a new trick —Nissan’s IDS concept was unveiled a few weeks ago in Tokyo — but here it not only looks polished, but plausible.
The interior can handle all of this presto-change-o because Concept 26 is built upon Volvo’s Scalable Project Architecture, an in-production modular platform that gives engineers a toybox of structural and electrical components with which to create cars. In May at Auto Shanghai, Volvo showed off an SPA-based XC90 SUV — normally a seven-seater — built as a Maybachian three-seater, with reclining back seats, a refrigerator, and a big-screen entertainment system built into an ottoman where a passenger seat would normally reside. When not in use, the entertainment system flips into an elegant footrest, placed so that your chauffeur may polish your shoes at stoplights (or soon, in Create mode).
For all the sleek showiness of Volvo’s forays into autonomy and aristocratic luxury, the Swedish stalwart still seems to be making each step toward the future a deliberate and well considered one. In 2017, the company will be leading the first large-scale test of autonomous driving, as 100 drivers surrender the wheel to IntelliSafe Autopilot-equipped XC90s for commutes in and around Gothenburg. We hope they enjoy their extra hour of sleep (unofficially).
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