Volvo 360c: Here’s To Autonomy, Universal Languages & Security Blankets

  • Imagine working or dining while you “drive” or even sleeping? 
  • Those ideas are central to the Volvo 360c which challenges the norms of conventional autonomous tech.
  • Volvo wants to discuss a universal benchmark and standard for how autonomous vehicles communicate. 

Volvo is getting all George Jetson with its latest 360c Concept. They start off by asking, “Where would you live if you could commute each workday in an autonomous driving, fully-functional, connected, comfortable, mobile office space?”

See, plenty space age. How would you answer that question, because Volvo thinks they’re way ahead of you.

Q&A

But, before you can answer that one, Volvo has a few more for you: What if the service was provided via an on-demand subscription basis? Or what if it was provided by one employer yet not another – which company would you work for? Or, to put it in a very blunt, gearhead kind of way: What if you just wanted to get from point A to B and look at cars the way you look at cellphones?

Pitchforks & Torches

The answer, thinks Volvo, is the new Volvo 360c concept. With the 360c, tomorrow will be autonomous, electric, connected, and safe. Volvo feels that fully autonomous and electric travel can offer a variety of enhanced safety and environmental benefits: less pollution, less traffic congestion, and associated health and lifestyle gains for those living in cities. Furthermore, cars like the 360c can open up opportunities for more residential freedom, reduce pressure on real estate prices, and make home ownership more affordable. According to Volvo that is.

That’s a lot for a car to undertake, but, in so many ways, the 360c doesn’t really fit the gearhead’s definition of a car.

The Volvo 360c is a fully autonomous electric “car” without a human driver. Calm down, calm down! Put those pitchforks and torches away! Volvo aims to use the 360c to re-imagine how you travel, engage with friends and family, and how you can take back time while traveling. This, according to Volvo, falls into four potential applications: sleeping environment, mobile office, living room, and entertainment space.

Volvo foresees a production version of the 360c as an attractive travel option versus air, bus, and train services, and with competitive advantages in comfort, convenience, and privacy.

Volvo 360c. Photo: Volvo Car Group.

Taming The Wild West

Autonomous driving and safety tech are closely linked if not outright overlapping. And, combined, these sibling technologies have the potential to deliver significant improvements in traffic safety. With this potential, the Swedes also note that one of the main challenges is setting a new, global standard for how autonomous vehicles can safely communicate with all other road users.

In other words, for a while, it’ll be the wild west out there with old cars and trucks and buses and pedestrians and such, all mixing in with semi-autonomous cars and, eventually, fully autonomous cars. In such situations, it will no longer be possible to make eye contact with another driver, a vital element of today’s traffic interaction.

The short version: autonomous cars will have to figure out how to do stuff like that.

“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” said Mårten Levenstam, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Volvo Cars. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities, and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more.”

Lights & Sounds

Some of what the 360c sets out to explore is how to establish safe communication standards between fully autonomous cars and other road users. And done in a way that consumers do not have to consider the brand of individual autonomous cars. That’s nice of Volvo.

Their answer is a system of external sounds, colors, visuals, and movements to communicate the vehicle’s intentions. It will, at all times, be clear what the car will do next, or so says Volvo.

“We strongly believe this communication method should be a universal standard, so all road users can communicate easily with any autonomous car, regardless of which maker built it,” explained Malin Ekholm, Vice President, Volvo Cars Safety Centre. “Our research shows this is the safest way for fully autonomous cars to communicate with other road users.”

Photo: Volvo Car Group.

Security Blankets

Like I said, Volvo figures the 360c presents four potential uses for autonomous driving: sleeping environment, mobile office, living room, and entertainment space. Obviously, being a fat, lazy American, I will go for the sleeping option.

But think about what you’d have to do to make a normal bed safe to travel in at highway speeds. (Volvo has).

You’re lying down, so that means normal seatbelts won’t work. Volvo’s safety engineers have come up with a special safety blanket that envisions a restraining system that works just like the three-point safety belt, but is adjusted to people lying down while traveling.

“Autonomous vehicle concepts have a tendency to become a technology showcase instead of a vision of how people use it,” said Robin Page, Senior Vice President of Design, Volvo Cars. “But Volvo is a human-centric brand. We focus on the daily lives of our customers and how we can make them better. The 360c is the next iteration of this approach.”

Sounds good, but they’ve got to come up with a better name than “safety blanket.”

Volvo 360c configured as a sleeping environment. Photo: Volvo Car Group.

Work & Pleasure

The mobile office, living room, and entertainment space options are also easy to understand. Mobile office is like a desk, set up with all the necessary tech (so you can work on your way into work). The living room, a cluster of seating areas, means you can chill on your way out for the evening. The entertainment space strikes me as being like the living room portion of the plan, but with more disco lighting. Nothing beats safe drinking while a computer does the driving on your way to yet another sodden evening out.

“Autonomous drive will allow us to take the big next step in safety but also open up exciting new business models and allow consumers to spend time in the car doing what they want to do,” said Håkan Samuelsson, President and CEO of Volvo Cars.

I’ve got to say, it does make a certain amount of sense. Especially if I could get a nap to and from the office.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. His forthcoming new book The Future In Front of Me, The Past Behind Me will be available soon. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz

Volvo 360c Gallery

Photos & Source: Volvo Car Group.

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