It’s been said that we’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, driven by disruptive technological change. This revolution will impact how we communicate, interact and travel. In particular, the autonomous vehicle might produce the most disruptive change in our lifetime—at least Volvo thinks so.
1. The Volvo 360c is fully autonomous, fully electric concept car without a human driver.
When it comes to disruptive technology, Volvo is in the driver’s seat. The company envisions future travel with its new 360c concept car, a fully autonomous, fully electric car without a human driver (Fig, 1). The concept capitalizes on the freedom in design afforded by the absence of a steering wheel and a combustion engine, providing the ability to reimagine the traditional placement of passengers in rows of two or three.
Volvo sees the 360c as having four potential uses for autonomous vehicles:
- Mobile sleeping environment
- Mobile office
- Mobile living/family room
- Entertainment space
Inside the sleeping environment, Volvo Cars’ safety engineers have also looked at the future of safety technology and how positioning a passenger differently could influence safety. A special safety blanket included in the sleeping environment envisions a future restraining system that works just like the three-point safety belt, but is adjusted to people lying down while traveling (Fig. 2).
2. The 360c incorporates sleeping provisions.
The 360c also envisions a range of new potential customer groups for the company business, such as a mobile office complete with desks and chairs (Fig. 3), and a mobile family room (Fig, 4). There’s also the consideration of possible implications for the future of city planning, infrastructure, and modern society’s environmental footprint.
3. Volvo’s mobile office concept.
“People becoming less reliant on proximity to cities is just one example of the impact of removing the burden of unproductive travel time,” says Volvo’s senior vice president of corporate strategy, Mårten Levenstam. “The 360c driving office makes it viable for people to live at greater distances from crowded cities and use their time both in a more pleasant and more effective way.”
Volvo expects the car business to change in the coming years and they could lead that change, says Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “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.”
For example, where would you live if you could commute each workday in an autonomous driving, fully functional, connected, comfortable, mobile office space? What if the service was provided via an on-demand subscription basis? Or what if it was provided by one employer yet not another—which company would you work for?
It’s this vision for the future of autonomous travel that Volvo reveals with its 360c concept, a holistic view of a future of travel that’s autonomous, electric, connected, and safe. It could open up new growth markets, for example in the multi-billion dollar domestic air travel industry.
Air Travel Competition
Volvo says it could imagine a world in which you travel long distances without the need for airports. A world in which you can avoid airport security, hours of queuing and waiting, and noisy, cramped airliners. What if, instead, you could take your own first-class private cabin that picks you up at home and takes you from door to door?
The company notes that the 360c represents a potentially lucrative competitor to short-haul air travel, a multi-billion-dollar industry comprising airlines, aircraft makers, and other service providers. Prime candidates for disruption by an alternative mode of travel would be where the distance between origin and destination is about 300 km.
For example, within the United States, over 740 million travelers embarked on domestic flights last year; America’s domestic air travel industry is worth billions of dollars in revenue. Several busy domestic air routes, such as New York to Washington DC, Houston to Dallas, and Los Angeles to San Diego, are more time-consuming by air than by car when including things such as travel to the airport, security checks, and waiting times.
“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,” says Levenstam. “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.”
The 360c also carries implications for the future of travel, city planning, infrastructure, and modern society’s environmental footprint. It doesn’t 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 traveling in the cities of the future.
“Autonomous-vehicle concepts have a tendency to become a technology showcase instead of a vision of how people use it,” says Robin Page, senior vice president of design at Volvo Cars. “But Volvo is a human-centric brand. We focus on the daily lives of our customers and how we can make them better. The 360c is the next iteration of this approach.” The 360c is a first, yet deliberate, step toward a broad discussion about the potential for autonomous-driving technology to fundamentally change society in many ways.”
“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” says senior VP 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.”
With its new 360c autonomous concept, Volvo Cars tackled one of the main challenges around the introduction of autonomous technology—a call for a new, global standard in how autonomous vehicles can safely communicate with all other road users.
Autonomous drive and safety are closely linked, and the technology has the potential to deliver the most significant improvement in traffic safety since Volvo Cars invented the three-point safety belt in 1959.
However, autonomous technology will be introduced gradually rather than overnight. As a result, fully autonomous cars will be introduced in a mixed traffic situation where driverless cars without a human driver will share the road with other road users. In such a traffic situation, it will no longer be possible to make eye contact with and learn about another driver’s intentions, which is a central element of today’s everyday traffic interaction.
As part of the development of the 360c, Volvo Cars safety engineers decided to tackle the challenge of how to establish a safe means of communication between fully autonomous cars and other road users. Its focus was to create a universally applicable standard, so that other road users don’t have to consider the make or brand of individual autonomous cars.
The 360c addresses this challenge with a system comprising external sounds, colors, visuals, movements, as well as combinations of these tools, to communicate the vehicle’s intentions to other road users. This means it’s always clear what the car will do next.
Crucially, while the design of the 360c safety communication technology focuses on making the car indicate its own intentions to other road users, it will never issue directions or instructions to other road users.
“We strongly believe this communication method should be a universal standard, so all road users can communicate easily with any autonomous car, regardless of which maker built it,” says Malin Ekholm, vice president at the Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “But it is also important that we do not instruct others what to do next, in order to avoid potential confusion. Our research shows this is the safest way for fully autonomous cars to communicate with other road users.”
Fully autonomous and electric travel offers a range of advanced safety and environmental benefits, such as less pollution, less traffic congestion, and related health and lifestyle advantages for those living in cities. It also opens up possibilities for more residential freedom, reduced pressure on real estate pricing, and more affordable home ownership.
“We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more,” says Levenstam. “Yet we believe fully autonomous drive has the potential to fundamentally change our society in many ways. It will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. But we are just one of many stakeholders, so we expect and invite a broad discussion as society learns how to make the most
of this revolutionary technology.”
Volvo provides no estimate of the timetable when these predicted vehicle configurations might come true. In fact, autonomous vehicles are still in the development stage and it may take a decade for their broad usage. As intriguing as these descriptions are, the question is: are they science fiction or real possibilities? Also, will the general public accept these arrangements?