How many visions of the future can you cram into one car interior?
That is one question—of many, granted—that Volvo’s Concept 26 aims to answer. The prototype for a self-driving car’s cockpit reflects the various clashing versions of the future that might soon share our roads. On the one hand, there is still a steering wheel, because self-driving cars will initially require some human inputs. But there are also plenty of distractions—screens, tabletops—that can pop up when you’re on the highway and the car is doing the work. And these all exist in the same place, because the future is awkward and legislative progress is messy and all carmakers can do is make a go of it, I guess?
one could also have different views of luxury
But here’s the bigger thing. Although I’m enthusiastic about autonomous technology, this car is certainly not designed for me. It’s not for most people. The self-driving future I envision is filled with shared vehicles and zero car ownership—and Volvo, to its credit, actually acknowledged this; it is, after all, a luxury car company, so it’s going to make an autonomous luxury car. But is the future really about working our butts off to make exorbitant car payments so we can get 26 extra minutes of sleep in our robot vehicles as they shuttle us from home to office?
Autonomous technology will no doubt make streets safer, and cities need to get onboard with carmakers like Volvo who can help make it happen fast. But the solution is not a Volvo Concept 26 in every garage. Just as much energy needs to be devoted to better trains and buses and sidewalks and bike lanes so people can actually get out of cars for good and enjoy their commutes. Or maybe better telecommuting capabilities—so no one has to go to an office at all.
Those are all valid points (and you should read the whole article) but I’d argue that you could take it even further. Concept 26 is luxurious—just look at all the screens—but that doesn’t mean that spending 26 minutes a day in the car is really a luxury. To Walker’s excellent point about the need for infrastructure and different views of labor, I’d add that one could also have different views of luxury. The arrangements that might help “normal” people might also afford a more luxurious experience for drivers of Volvos. This synchronicity is perhaps the best chance we have at meaningful change. Netflix at the wheel is nice, but having 26 minutes to do whatever you want outside of a locked cabin is better.