It may make Hsv-jacketed old men weep, but it’s true – the future of driving is clearly not going to involve much driving at all. But when the inevitable autonomy arrives and the steering wheel goes the way of the cassette player, what will cars look and feel like? Happily, the answer from car companies, who’ve already been working feverishly on this eventuality for years, is that it will be a lot like flying business class, or, if you can afford a really high-end vehicle, even first. This shift towards cosseting and entertaining all of the car’s occupants equally, rather than focusing on the driver, will turn the design world not just upside down, but inside out, according to Laura Robin, director of the BMW Designworks LA Studio. “The interior design of the vehicle is going to have a stronger influence on the proportions than before, design from the inside out, if you like,” she says. GQ recently strapped on some designer specs and natty braces for a visit to BMW Designworks, a high-tech, highly slick campus of trendy imagineers dedicated to working on non-car-related projects since 1972, and which now employs 135 people from 14 different countries. Laurenz Schaffer showed us the new first class cabins his team had created for Singapore Airlines, partly because it’s a paying job for his company, but also because BMW knows that the crossover between flying and car travel is very much the way of the near future. “I think we’ll have fully automated cars on the road by 2025, with the steering wheel gone, and it will be very much like a flying experience, which is why it helps to work with planes now,” explained Schaffer. “We’re already working on customer scenarios; what will people do in those two hours a day they used to spend driving? What will they consume, who will provide the content and how will we be able to profit share with people who provide it?” Designworks has recently taken its collaborative learnings back into the car world, with the unveiling of its BMW ‘i Inside Future’ sculpture at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. Viewed from above, you can see the airline influence, with the cockpit becoming more like a living room with separate zones for passengers to do as they please. The open, airy cabin is packed with futuristic technology, including the Star Wars- sounding ‘Holoactive Touch’ interface, yet it’s not overwhelming. “The concept was designed to answer such questions as ‘when cars drive themselves where does that leave the driver?’ and ‘how will the interior geometry change when the focus is no longer the steering wheel?’” explains Robin. “We also wanted to challenge some of the takes we have seen on future mobility that paint a rather cold, sterile environment and look towards humanising the design. “In aviation we’re seeing furniture-like geometry, somewhat borrowed from aircraft lounges, with natural materials projecting more of a ‘living environment’ coming
into our work in aircraft business and first class cabins. It’s moving away from the notion of ‘designing a seat’ to ‘designing an environment’. “Moreover, as we navigate through a proliferation of screens in our daily interactions, with inherent distractions, we wanted to create an environment where technology was on-demand and invisible when not needed. Using a ‘Holo-active Touch’ interface for the main controller eliminates obstruction and overall clutter and interacts with a panoramic front screen that adopts the sculptural surfacing of the interior.” Aside from its many obvious and annoying failings, the commercial airline business does have expertise in influencing your perception of space, mainly through the use of light, colour and materials. In the case of first class cabins, Designworks’ goal is to make the environment feel “special and intimate,” which it does by using different colours, fibres and finishes on the interior space, as opposed to the surfaces that face out towards the aisle. Designworks also works with consumer-electronics clients on ‘Smart City’ projects and is involved with ethnographic research on people’s expectations for the future of connectivity, personalisation and “seamlessness”. While BMW’S ‘Future’ sculpture moves away from the clinical concept cars we’re used to seeing, is it still a case of function over form, and practicality over beauty? “As designers we play with those sliders a bit,” admits Robin. “No matter what, we strive to balance meaningful functionality [it has to fit a need and deliver on that need exquisitely] and the proper aesthetic expression. “Must design always be ‘beautiful’? Maybe not. But it must make us feel. Feel delighted, or provoked. Feel confident, or challenged. “The beauty we strive for is a holistic beauty – the visual aesthetic leads us into an experience, but the beauty is rounded out by a wellconceived, essential and considered user experience.” Robin says all of the world’s automotive companies are looking at the implications of an autonomous future for their brands and design work. Mercedes-benz, for example, is working with Boeing on cabin architecture and new seats that are capable of monitoring and even improving your health while in a car. At the more mass-market end of motoring, Carlos Ghosn, the enigmatic and opinionated CEO of the giant Renault-nissan Alliance is predicting a rapid rate of change. “By 2022, most of the cars on the street will have some kind of autonomy as well as some kind of connectivity, and the premium market is going to be totally autonomous and totally connected,” he says, and by connectivity he means fully content streaming, Face-timing-and wifi-enabled. “You’re going to have massive growth in the next four or five years because it’s such a huge advantage for the driver. This will change the way people see cars, because your vehicle will become a mobile space where you can work, you can rest, you can relax, you can video conference. Compare that to today where it’s a transport device – you sit there with your eyes on the road and you can’t do anything else but listen to music.” Ghosn says that if you look at how much time people currently spend, on average, in their cars – which is an hour a day in the US and Australia, and up to two hours in parts of Europe and China – you really are looking at changing the way you live by clawing back that time. “What’s driving autonomy is that the customer will want it. It’s a productivity gain, it’s adding quality of life and giving time to the consumer, because you can suddenly use those two hours to finish your reports, teach your kids, read a book,” he says. “Obviously, this is of huge interest to the car makers because it means the car becomes an even more indispensable part of people’s lives. It’s integral now, but it’s only a device for getting your body from one place to another. Once we have autonomy and connectivity, it becomes a mobile space to live in.” bmw.com.au
BMW knows that the crossover between flying and car travel is very much the way of the near future.
VARIOUS VIEWS OF BMW’S CONCEPT ‘i INSIDE FUTURE’.