Geneva Motor Show: Passengers' view of driverless cars

A woman poses inside the new Rinspeed XchangE concept car

Autonomous cars, robotic cars, drone cars - call them what you will, but the self-driving car is coming to a showroom near you.

It might take a couple of years - it might take a couple of decades - but few people at the Geneva Motor Show would disagree that one day science fantasy will become fact.

However, while the likes of Google, BMW, Ford and IBM work on the technology, less attention has been given to what it means for passengers.

The Swiss automotive think tank Rinspeed has tried to give one possible vision of this future with its Xchange concept car, being premiered at Geneva.

"I wanted to put the passenger at the centre of what is possible, not the autonomous driving technology," says Rinspeed's founder and chief executive Frank Rinderknecht.

"Travelling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way.

"The question then arises, would I like to work, to sleep, to read, to do whatever activities you might do on a train, a plane?

"I wanted to start thinking about how autonomous cars would 'move' people, and not just in the literal sense."

Swivel, tilt, slide

Rinspeed has taken a four-seater saloon and reconfigured the interior into something that would not look out of place inside a small private jet.

Start Quote

When I look back at how things were, it looks like the Stone Age”

End Quote Frank Rinderknecht Rinspeed

Except - and this was the real challenge - it is all done in a standard-sized car, in this case an electric Tesla Model S.

"It would have been easier in a van or stretch limousine, obviously," says Frank Rinderknecht.

The seats can swivel, tilt and slide into 20 positions, enabling passengers in the front to turn and face those in the back or lie back and watch a 32-inch screen.

The steering column can be moved into the centre for easier use of an information and entertainment system running the full length of the dashboard.

This features two pivoting LCD displays to surf the web, check emails, or video conferencing.

illustration of Rinspeed XchangE concept car Someday, maybe all driving will be like this

Everything is fully connected to the world with real-time information and cloud services.

Mr Rinderknecht has even managed to fit in an espresso machine.

'Wickedly expensive'

Although the Xchange is experimental, Rinspeed worked with established sub-contractors to prove that the concept is feasible.

Start Quote

There will come a time when we will be travelling in a container, with no airbags or seatbelts because the chances of an accident will be so small”

End Quote Frank Rinderknecht Rinspeed

TRW Automotive made the moveable steering wheel; Harman made the entertainment system; Deutsche Telekom provided the connectively, and textile firm Straehle and Hess developed the luxury blue and grey interior colour scheme, designed to give the car a soothing maritime ambience.

And, because this is Switzerland, implanted in the centre of the steering column is a Carl F Bucherer wristwatch - a Patravi TravelTec - in a transparent globe.

The watch is wound as the car moves.

"Crazy, playful, but somehow also ingenious and wickedly expensive," says Mr Rinderknecht.

A Plexiglas roof from Evonik has 358 LED lights (there are 98 more in the instrument panel).

But it is not all about kicking off your shoes, dimming the lights and watching a movie.

Driverless cars will not mean the death of driving, Mr Rinderknecht says.

There will be times when a driver will want to drive.

illustration of a driverless car's dashboard The idea is to challenge traditional automotive design
'More agile'

"Most driving is boring because you are just eating miles and miles. If I go on the motorway from London to Birmingham, it's not very joyful.

"However, if I go over an Alpine pass I want to drive myself, I don't want the machine to do it."

Rinspeed is used to pushing automotive design to the limits. What Mr Rinderknecht calls his "crazy Swiss team" is behind several extreme projects, including its Squba underwater car.

"We are a small company and can think outside the box. We don't have all the big companies' constraints, processes, politics. We can be a lot more agile."

He chose the Tesla, partly because all-electric and hybrid vehicles are the future, but also because the configuration of the car was best suited for the multi-position seats.

"People won't want standard seats in autonomous cars. Have you ever tried to sit back in your car? Your shirt rides out of your trousers.

"We had to redesign the whole seating schematics."

Overcoming safety, liability, and regulatory issues will be big challenge for manufacturers of autonomous cars.

Rules governing seat safety are among the most complex - especially when designers want to have them flat - but few of us give it much thought.

Bumpy ride

"Our starting point was the business cabin of an aircraft and we went from there," Mr Rinderknecht says.

And then there is the issue of comfort.

"All that braking and going over bumps - you need a seat that will still let you relax," he says.

Rinspeed developed the seats with the world-renowned manufacturer of medical prosthetics, Otto Bock Mobility.

One of the remarkable features of the Xchange is the sense of space. Despite being crammed with features and technology it is, well, not that cramped inside.

man and woman in interior of a driverless car Convincing people to use driverless cars may require a leap of faith

Mr Rinderknecht is already thinking beyond this concept car.

"There will come a time when we will be travelling in a container, with no airbags or seatbelts because the chances of an accident will be so small."

He sees a convergence of automotive technology and artificial intelligence as "an enabler of a new industrial revolution".

Increasing automation

But the real challenge may not be technological, or regulatory, but emotional.

Convincing people to travel in a driverless car will require a leap of faith.

"We know that nine out of 10 plane crashes are due to pilot error," he says.

"But, hypothetically, if you go to Heathrow Airport and have an option of flying in a plane with two pilots or a plane with no pilots, I know which one you will trust."

It may require a generation before people adapt but it will happen, he says.

"Everything in life is becoming automated. When I started to work I had a typewriter with a carbon ribbon band.

"When I look back at how things were, it looks like the Stone Age."

More on This Story

Global Car Industry

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    VIRGIN MONEY FLOAT 07:11:

    Virgin Money has announced details of its share sale. The firm hopes to raise £150m from the sale of about 25% of the bank, it said. If the sale is successful the Treasury will receive £50m, which was part of the deal when Virgin Money took over assets from Northern Rock.

     
  2.  
    ECB MEETING 06:57: BBC Radio 4
    Eurozone sign

    The European Central Bank (ECB) hosts its monthly meeting in Naples today, amid worries that the eurozone economy is deteriorating. "The ECB can buy time for governments to act... but it cannot generate lasting growth," says Moritz Kraemer from Standard & Poor's on Today. He says Europe needs to reduce the debt load of households, firms and governments.

     
  3.  
    PIMCO EXODUS 06:48: BBC Radio 4

    Investors have taken £14.5bn out of the investment firm Pimco since its founder Bill Gross resigned last week. Andrew Balls, chief global investment office at Pimco, says "it's calmed down very quickly though". The departure was not a huge surprise, he reckons. Mr Balls reminds listeners to Today that Mr Gross was 70 "and wouldn't be there [Pimco] for ever". Ouch.

     
  4.  
    PARIS MOTOR SHOW 06:40: BBC World News
    Rolls Royce chief executive, Torsten Muller-Otvos

    (Imagine a German accent) "We are on the roll ja," says the German chief executive of Rolls Royce Motor Cars, Torsten Muller-Otvos on World Business Report. He expects the company to have another record year. He is standing in front of a limited edition Rolls-Royce Phantom, only 20 were made and, sorry readers, they are all sold out.

     
  5.  
    SHARING ECONOMY 06:31: Radio 5 live

    What is the sharing economy? "The sharing economy defines the assets you own and skills you have" says Debbie Wosskow, chief executive of Love Home Swap on 5 live. (Any the wiser?) Customers need protection, but regulation needs to keep up with this emerging market, she says. She's writing a review into the sharing economy.

     
  6.  
    CONSERVATIVE CONFERENCE 06:17: Radio 5 live

    Lord Digby Jones, the crossbench peer and businessman is on 5 live after his appearance at the Conservative Party conference. He is worried people think money grows on trees, rather than coming from business, but also says business should mend its image: "I don't want chief executives paying themselves big bonuses [right now]. They may deserve it, but it sets a lousy example."

     
  7.  
    ARGENTINA 06:13: Radio 5 live
    President Cristina Fernandez

    The boss of Argentina's central bank has resigned. Juan Carlos Fabrega had been calling the government to tackle inflation and rein in spending. That created conflict with the nation's economy minister. The BBC's South American Business Reporter Katy Watson says the resignation doesn't make President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner look good either.

     
  8.  
    PARIS MOTOR SHOW 06:07: Radio 5 live

    Jurgen Stackman, chairman of carmaker Seat is on Radio 5 live. Ten years ago electric vehicles were seen as the future, so what went wrong? Industry watchers were very optimistic about the speed of people picking them up, he says. Electric cars still have mileage and range limitations and families with one car don't want to rely on an electric car, he adds.

     
  9.  
    US SHARES SLIDE 06:00: BBC World News
    New York Stock Exchange

    There were sharp losses for US shares overnight. On World Business Report, Michael Hewson, chief analyst at CMC Markets reminds us that the US market has had a good run recently. But there is not much to be positive about at the moment, he says. The recent economic data from China and Japan has not been great. Traders are also preparing for higher interest rates in the US, Mr Hewson says.

     
  10.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning. You can get in touch via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk and on twitter @BBCBusiness

     
  11.  
    06:00: Ben Morris Business Reporter

    There were sharp losses for US shares overnight, so it will be interesting to see how Europe responds to that later. Plus we'll have reports from the Paris Motor Show. It should be a fun morning, so stay with us.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • European Union's anti-terrorism chief Gilles de KerchoveHARDtalk Watch

    Anti-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove on the threat from returning Islamic State fighters

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.