New-mobility thinking is changing how interiors will evolve for all vehicles.
Just about everyone’s seen a recent rendering of future vehicle interiors, but high-function driver assistance, automated driving and mobility as a service (MaaS) are new dimensions rapidly altering how the cabin environment is being envisioned. Ironically, while near-term prospects for privately-owned autonomous vehicles (AVs) have hit the hype curve’s downward slope, research and development into how passengers will interact with new-mobility technology will result in interior designs and features that reach the market long before average consumers experience automated driving.
Major automotive interior suppliers and AV technology innovators such as Waymo insist designs and features envisioned for AV cabins are desirable for any vehicle. According to interior-design experts, the top emerging trends include larger and more user-friendly screen-based human-machine interfaces (HMI), reconfigurable seating and individual-focused cockpit “environments”. There are also safety- and health-promoting features ready to be deployed, such as biomedical monitoring. This can provide basic health metrics, but also monitor a driver’s state of attention or inebriation to determine fitness to operate the vehicle at various levels of automated driver-assist functionality.
Jeff Stout, executive director, global innovation at Tier 1 supplier Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, said the company’s 2018 XiM20 show vehicle continues as an incubator for innovations, and could be used for an SAE Level 5 AV. “That (XiM20) was our best execution or vision of what we think a full Level-5 autonomous experience could be, introducing the idea of ‘enclosure’ versus ‘exposure,’ the analogies to our everyday life today,” Stout said. “Where we go to a restaurant and we get to choose whether we're in a cozy booth in a back, or sitting out by the sidewalk and watching people go by.”
A cocoon for all
Although the notion of individualized environments for each vehicle occupant is not new, it wasn’t until MaaS became a reality – first thru ride-hailing/ridesharing enterprises and now in an expanding spectrum of autonomous-shuttle demonstration projects – that the need to create distinctly segmented cabin spaces became obvious. Considerable interior design and technology development is now committed to deploying aspects of the individual-space ideal in the near-term market.
Soon-to-be-seen are MaaS-inspired personalization innovations such as interior supplier Faurecia’s “audio bubble.” These seats are designed with audio drivers embedded in the back and bottom cushions, coupled with sound-shaping software to direct audio content only to that seat’s occupant . Like other cabin-technology suppliers, Faurecia’s VP of Midwest Technology Platform Todd Fletemier said he sees its role evolving into a true technology integrator.
Environmental consciousness and new vistas for functionality conveniently merge for new-age cabin materials such as the apple-fiber-based seat upholstery in the Volkswagen ID Space Vizzon concept unveiled at the 2019 Los Angeles auto show. (Volkswagen)
Development of the audio bubble will no doubt be aided by Faurecia’s early-2019 acquisition of Japan-based audio specialist Clarion, creating the new Faurecia Clarion Electronics (FCE) business unit. It’s an acquisition strategy many automotive interiors suppliers are mimicking. “Clarion has that expertise in center stacks and some of the ADAS [advanced driver-assistance systems],” Fletemier said. Faurecia is working with partners as an integrator for what it calls the Cockpit of the Future (CoF), elements of which it intended to reveal at CES 2020 in a current-generation Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Fletemier said the choice of the F-150 was intended to demonstrate the near-term viability of many of the CoF innovations. “That's a great vehicle for us to be able to showcase because we're [already] a major supplier of the product,” he said, adding, “and it allows us to take those technologies and to showcase them as one, as in what's possible inside of that interior.”