Australian designer Charles Rattray has let imagination run wild with his Autonomo 2030 concept car pictured below. He envisions a fully autonomous electric car with a multi-layer nano-scale surface which includes solar cells. Windows can be switched between opaque and fully-transparent modes. Multiple such cars can automatically travel together in distances of 20 cm thus significantly reducing drag and energy consumption. The autonomo is not much longer but significantly narrower than the Mini and can carry up to two adults seated behind each other. Linked in a flock, two Autonomo vehicles should be able to use a single lane on many streets. Combined with inter-vehicle communication and synchronization this should do much to eliminate traffic jams.For more info see the detailed concept.
Agriculture is full of opportunities for driverless approaches. German farm equipment vendor Fendt (a subsidiary of AGCO) hast developed a technology ‘Guide-Connect’ to let a tractor operate without driver. The tractor is not fully autonomous; instead it follows another human operated tractor and replicates its actions. A GPS sensor allows it to identify the location where the lead tractor initiates operations such as engaging gears, lowering tools etc. The driverless tractor then performs the same action when it arrives at the corresponding location. The movie below (narration in German) shows the tandem in operation.
Guide-Connect won a Gold Medal for innovation at the 2011 Agritechnica industry fair. The technology is not limited to simple follow-me scenarios. It can also handle obstacles and turns.
More automotive manufacturers are readying themselves for the driverless future: Toyota will display an autonomous version of the Prius at the upcoming 42nd Tokyo Motor Show (Nov 30-Dec 11). Visitors will be able to test-ride the Prius which is equipped with the Toyota AVOS (Automatic Vehicle Operation System). The system can autonomously park itself, drive to the customer when summoned, avoid obstacles. This is not the only autonomous car presented at the show. Kanazawa University, Keio University, the Japan Automobile Research Institute and others also present driverless cars as part of the Smart Mobility City Exhibition.
Partnering with Germany’s postal service, Deutsche Post AG, Volkswagen Research Group has developed the concept of a delivery van Volkswagen eT! which can operate semi-autonomously. The driver can instruct the car to follow him – for example when making deliveries from house to house or to return to the driver for example from a parking spot. This concept provides provides a glimpse of how autonomous driving may alter some established business processes.
Like Daimler and BMW, now Volkswagen positions itself in the car-sharing space. It will launch its ‘Quicar‘ car-sharing service in Hannover, Germany on November 16th with about 200 Volkswagen cars and initially about 50 stations where users can pick up the cars.
Costs run at about 0.20 euros per minute with a minimum of 6 euros. Volkswagen has developed their own telematics software and provides mobile phone apps for booking the cars.
This is an important move for the company and an acknowledgement of the looming threats to the established ownership-oriented business model which currently dominates the automotive industry. Car-sharing is viewed more and more positively among the younger generation, but the more important reason (though not yet explicitly stated) may be that autonomous cars are on the horizon. Once they are introduced, they will greatly increase the appeal of car-sharing and significantly lower total mobility costs for car-sharing customers. Car-sharing with autonomous cars is the business model of the future for the automotive industry: Volkswagen is making the first steps to prepare for this tectonic shift.