Discussion about the vehicle of the future very often focuses on the drive system and degree of automation. At the same time, a further aspect is frequently overlooked which is at least as important in terms of driving experience: the vehicle’s interior. IAV and Consulting4Drive are hard at work investigating new concepts for the interior of the 21st century. Initial prototypes are already in the pipeline.
What are vehicle occupants likely to expect from vehicle interiors in future? This question is important because the years ahead are certainly going to witness significant changes to the technology but also to consumer usage behavior – away from owning a vehicle and more toward merely using a vehicle on a car sharing basis, particularly in urban areas. In this scenario, the traveling feel-good factor may become more important than external design or engine version. The increasing significance of the vehicle interior is being fired by the second mega trend in the field of mobility: autonomous driving. Driver assist systems are diminishing the significance of the driver’s cockpit and reducing it to the bare essentials; the disappearance of the cockpit, together with steering wheel and pedals, in the medium to long term also gives designers a free hand in fundamentally restructuring the vehicle interior.
Cocoon, not only on the bus
“We are already working on finding answers to these questions in customer projects“, reports Dr. Marcus Heinath, head of the UX, HMI and Instrument Cluster department at IAV. “Autonomous vehicles, for example, give passengers much more time to work. For this, though, they need an appropriate environment.” The right combination of space organization, materials, interior design and displays / controls is essential for a productive feel-good atmosphere. The usage scenario also plays a key part in this context. Besides autonomous “robocabs”, for instance, the future is also likely to see driverless buses in which passengers share the space inside as complete strangers. “Providing a certain level of privacy will nevertheless be important in this environment”, explains Dr. Tibor Passek, Manager at Consulting4Drive. “This can be achieved, for example, by means of a privacy screen or anti-noise acoustic partitioning.” The aim is to create an undisturbed space for work and conversation – here, experts speak of “cocooning”.
IAV’s experts are currently working on initial prototypes of the future generation of vehicle interior – Interior 2.0 – which is expected to be available as early as 2018. Just how soon the new ideas will go into volume production will above all depend on developments in the field of autonomous driving and car sharing. “But in bringing together both developments, the difficulty lies in the fact that car sharing already works well today in environments where autonomous driving still faces its biggest technical challenges – in major cities. Outside these urban areas, the situation is exactly the opposite”, Passek says. “However, a number of technical challenges still need to be overcome in the vehicle interior too.”
Car sharing is placing new demands on the interior’s components: they not only need to be robust and easy to clean but also simple to replace or modify so that a shared car still leaves an inviting and fresh impression on the user even after six years. Because in future, a vehicle’s interior design is expected to become an important distinguishing feature for car-sharing providers – for example, a modular interior could let companies match it to the latest fashion colors or to customer-segment-specific demands as a way or attracting users and ensuring their loyalty.
Instantly feeling at home
Some control concepts must be completely rethought for future share cars. Augmented reality could help to enhance driving experience. However, it will be even more important to provide users with seamless and secure connections for their mobile terminal devices in the vehicles they change between from day to day. “The smartphone determines much of our life today”, Heinath says. “For this reason, the user interface in tomorrow’s vehicles must be geared towards the user’s personal environment.” In other words: a share car’s basic display/control philosophy will reflect the digital ecosystem that users bring with them: Android, iOS or Microsoft. Given the short time spent in a share car, it must adapt to its user in the best possible way. Vehicle developers and manufacturers are called upon to think outside of the box and engage in close cooperation with the leading consumer electronics companies to optimize solutions for the consumer.
The need for security also comes with a reallife, physical aspect. Particularly in a driverless car and amidst strangers sharing it on a journey, it is important for the individual to feel protected from physical assault. Monitoring the vehicle interior with video cameras, similar to public local transport, can reinforce this sense of security and give the car-sharing provider a certain level of control over what is going on inside its vehicles.
At the same time, security and privacy also include the automatic, reliable and verifiable deletion of personal data after leaving the vehicle (especially call lists, passenger behavior inside the passenger compartment and movement patterns).
Vehicle development from scratch
“Many established OEMs are currently scrutinizing their product range and looking at what autonomous driving and car sharing mean for them”, reports Jonas Nietschke, Digital Evangelist at Consulting4Drive. “They are trying to bring existing vehicle concepts into line with the new demands. We feel this won’t produce the optimum result for the user. Vehicles developed specifically for the purpose of autonomous driving and car sharing would differ significantly from existing models in terms of design, function and focus on flexible solutions.” Particularly in the impending transitional period, the dominant players were facing a threat from new competitors because many of them are trying to follow a dual-track approach with classic products. Better prepared is anyone who is already working on Interior 2.0.