Volvo's concept car at the Los Angeles Auto Show isn't a concept car at all, but rather an interface that imagines how car interiors will change after we welcome our autonomous overlords.
Dubbed Concept 26, named for the average number of minutes in a daily commute to work, the concept addresses how drivers in the not-so-distant future will choose to spend their time during their commutes.
“It’s all about people. Our research clearly shows that some people will want to use their commuting time creatively when they have full autonomous drive available, while others will want to just sit back and relax, watch online media or listen to music," said Robin Page, vice president of interior design at Volvo Cars. "Autonomous drive will make all of this possible. This is what Concept 26 has captured by reimagining the entire car experience."
The concept presents an all-new patented seat design that transforms depending on one of the three modes that the driver of an autonomous car can choose: Drive, Create or Relax.
When the driver chooses Relax, the seat reclines all the way, the steering wheel retracts into the dash, and a large screen rotates into view. When Create mode is chosen, the driver's seat slides back and a small tray pops out from the door, allowing the driver to write work-related letters on paper using a quill pen, in cursive. The Drive mode is, of course, the default mode for those times when the driver of the future wants to experience how early humans in the distant past -- the 1990s for example -- had to drive themselves by looking at the road and turning the wheel when stuff appeared before them.
"We have gone to great lengths to understand the challenges and opportunities that autonomous cars will bring to people in coming years, and our flexible approach to engineering and design, enabled by our new Scalable Product Architecture, means that we can readily bring this from concept to reality," said Dr. Peter Mertens, senior vice president for r&d at Volvo Car Group.
The Concept 26 debuts on the heels of a bumper crop of similar concepts by other automakers and design studios, one of the most memorable being the Rinspeed XchangE concept that tried also presented a reworked interior meant to allow switching between autonomous and old-fashioned driving.
The Mercedes F 015 autonomous concept from this year's CES also comes to mind, a full-sized concept with four rotating seats facing each other in a conference-style layout. And of course, who could forget the Rinspeed Budii concept we saw at the Geneva motor show this February? The BMW i3-based autonomous concept previewed a future with slightly Orwellian overtones, as well as tension-filled music from the same bleak future.
We're hoping it'll be Volvo's version of autonomous car interiors that comes to pass -- it seems the most realistic of the ones we've encountered so far and is something we can see being in production cars five years from now. Or whenever the future will finally get here.