GQ (Australia) - - CARS -

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.


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