Imagine getting in your car for the daily commute and instead of stressing about traffic, you push the steering wheel aside, recline the driver’s seat and watch a movie, or catch up on email using an iPad in the dashboard.
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This is the future of motoring that Swiss design firm Rinspeed envisions with its XchangE concept car set to debut at the Geneva Motor Show. Equipped with swiveling recliners, a wide screen television in the rear and an Italian espresso maker in the center console, the XchangE redefines life behind the wheel.
It is purely a hypothetical vehicle, and it hinges on the idea that at some point in the not-too-distant future, cars will be smart enough to drive themselves. With Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and others now in a race to start selling autonomously driving vehicles before the end of the decade (as discussed here), a car like the XchangeE isn’t far fetched.
The XchangeE is based on a Tesla Model S electric car. Rinspeed dressed up the exterior with special trim, but the interior is the true showpiece. It is patterned after a business-class cabin on a jetliner, with plush, reclining front seats that include folding foot rests.
The steering wheel slides out of the way so that the driver can kick back and read, conduct a video conference, or make an espresso. Front occupants can spin their seats around to face passengers in the back and create a lounge-like environment. Or, if the no one is in the rear of the car, the backrest folds down to expose a huge flatscreen.
The carefully chosen upholstery, coated Plexiglass roof with rainbow-hued reflections, and hundreds of light-emitting diodes in the headliner and dash create a soothing environment in which occupants can relax as the car calculates the best route based on realtime traffic and weather updates from cloud-based servers.
Although the Rinspeed XchangE is purely experimental, it was developed in partnership with real equipment manufacturers as a way to illustrate that its technology is indeed tangible. For example, TRW Automotive, a Michigan-based parts supplier, developed the steering wheel, which incorporates controls for the transmission and a drive-mode display. Georg Fischer Automotive created the sliding steering column and Harman the infotainment system. Even Deutsche Telekom was tapped to provide connectivity through its LTE network.
Zurich-based Rinspeed has a long history of innovation, some of it quirky—such as the Splash amphibious car—and some of it visionary, like the autonomous MicroMax people-mover, which debuted in Geneva last year.
The 2014 Geneva Motor Show is open to the public from March 6 to 16, following two press days.