In tomorrow’s mobility ecosystem, which is likely to see a heterogeneous mix of different powertrain options and changed ownership models, there is one area in vehicles that is undergoing substantial change – interiors. Over the years, there have been many visual and functional changes brought in by manufacturers into the vehicle interior. However, future automobiles – especially ones to be driven autonomously – will bring about changes hitherto seen only in sci-fi movies.
Pivoting seats, reconfigurable dashboards, retracting steering wheels, windscreens that transform into head-up displays, morphed controls, 3D touchscreens, exotic lighting schemes, personalised infotainment for each passenger – the automotive industry, along with technology companies and researchers, are letting their imaginations fly.
Earlier this year, BMW’s design department and MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab announced it has produced a 3D-printed inflatable material – liquid printed pneumatics – that can adapt and morph from one state to another. This, the companies say, could lead to design of highly customisable and multifunctional car interiors. German supplier Brose has showcased its autopilot concept for the cabin. Here, the steering retracts into the dashboard, and the pedals rise to become footrests. The screen on the dash moves right in front of the driver, and the table folds out from the centre console.
Much of this is aimed at shared mobility and driverless vehicles. Vehicles currently used for shared mobility are essentially the stock vehicle with minor modifications to address user needs. That, however, is scheduled to change drastically with vehicles being built for specific purposes – shared, for instance. The most important factor to consider here is the change is the use pattern. Rented vehicles will be on the road most of the time, unlike private vehicles today that are parked for 95 % of the time. Increased durability of the vehicle, as well as its interiors, will become extremely important.
The other part of the puzzle is communication. In an autonomous scenario, the driver and passengers will need to know exactly what the vehicle system is capable of – the next move or identifying the next obstacle. Experts have been talking about the need to develop and implement multi-modal sensory communication in vehicles, be it visual, auditory, haptic or gesture.
Clearly, there will be a shift in expectations from customers of future vehicles – from the experience of driving to the experience of using a vehicle. And there, the interiors would probably play the biggest role.
DEEPANGSHU DEV SARMAH
New Delhi, December 2018