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Why the self-driving car will be the greatest technology of all time (seriously)

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 10:00am
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

I am in desperate need of a self-driving car. We’re talking desperate. I would pay a considerable amount of money — in this circumstance not only does the self-driving car exist, it is widely available and I have hit the lottery — for a self-driving car. Freedom to face people you're talking to (or not) (Image from Rinspeed)The reasoning is twofold.For one, I have a long commute in a very traffic-heavy area and it’s a huge waste of time. Reason number two is — while I love New Jersey — we have some of the scariest drivers — mostly imported from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts— in the country driving our roads daily, and self-driving cars are safer than the average person's driving skills.

So, all that being said, it makes sense that I practically salivate every time a new concept for a self-driving car pops up on my desk. I was particularly fascinated by a concept called XchangE by Rinspeed that will formally debut at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Rinspeed, a Swiss “Idea Factory”, took a Tesla Model S and modified it into the perfect, luxury vehicle that you don’t have to drive. The whole thing was engineering by 4erC.

See: Photos of the Day: The XchangE Tesla autonomous concept car

IIt's not so badt's hideous, I love it
The finished concept looks nothing like a traditional car.The roof was replaced with a Plexiglas and features 358 individually controlled LEDs. They also added Plexiglas to the fascia, rocker panels, and rear spoiler.

In addition to the exterior changes, which I have no feelings on because I don’t even have to drive it, the team completely revamped the inside of the Tesla. The replaced regular driver and front passenger seats with captain’s chairs that swivel, slide, and tilt so they can face any direction including toward the backseat. In fact, there are apparently 20 possible seating arrangement. The inspiration came from business class airplane seats (the comfy ones) and were designed by Otto Bock Mobility Solutions. The materials include Merino wool and silk from Schoeller spinning mill.

See: Rinspeed XchangE autonomous concept car (Video)

Talk to me, carBoth "drive" and front passenger have twin LCD screens
As for gadgets, the car comes with a 32-inch, 4k monitor in the rear seat. This means you can watch movies, conduct meetings, play games, or surf the web during your daily commute. They also added a whole bunch of real-time sensor data that allows the car to communicate with the outside world. You can see how this is imperative for a self-driving car. That data is all sent to the infotainment system and sent to the cloud via integrated LTE.All the data is analyzed by Deutsche Telekoms “Business-to-car” platform and that system is able to alert the car (and passengers) about any traffic or accidents ahead. In the future, as more cars start to use this platform, more information will be available to the systems, and it will become increasinly accurate and useful.If you’re worried about security, the control system identifies authorized drivers using RFID technology

Coffee on the goEven a self-driving car needs a steering wheel, but there’s no real reason for it to be in a traditional position. With that in mind, Rinspeed commissioned a TRW steering wheel complete with bionic design by Georg Fischer Automotive that can slide to the center of the car, allowing the “driver” more flexibility. The steering wheel also has its own gadgets including hands-on recognition, transparent multifunction keys, and drive-mode-manager display in the rim. The 1.2 meter-wide display offers the driver any important information she might need. The “steer-by-wire” technology (by Swabian Company Paravan) allows the steering wheel to communicate with the car. The technology is similar to that found in an airplane, and it’s what allows the car to be self-driving.

And also, by the way, did I mention you can put a coffee maker in the center console?

Beep beep!After doing a little more research about this, I’m even more excited. I waste about 13 hours a week (on a good week) driving to and from work. That doesn’t factor in any long weekend trips or other time spent in the car traveling to my alma mater (Go Orange!) or visiting family. I can’t wait for the day when I can use that time to read a book or get some work done. These will be particularly useful in areas of the country where public transportation isn’t an option. Plus, with all the V2V and V2X communication systems being developed, this will soon be the safest way to travel.

So there is only one question left: When will the Bug be able to drive itself?

Anyone else as excited as I am to get commuting time back? Leave some comments!

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