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Johnson Controls’ new SD15 seating demonstrator features a power driver seat mounted to a curved track, eliminating the need for separate, complex mechanisms found in conventional seat arrangements. A control console is mounted directly to the seat structure that moves with the occupant, offering wireless charging options for mobile devices. (To view additional images, click the arrow at top right of this image.)

Johnson Controls, Faurecia envision interiors for autonomous driving

As the automotive industry moves to more autonomous driving, the requirements for vehicle interiors and seating will “radically change” as well, according to Johnson Controls. The supplier foresees the driver’s seat becoming a “comfortable control unit” as additional assistance systems come on board. Company executives shared their vision of the forthcoming shift at the recent IAA (Frankfurt Motor Show) 2015.

“Autonomous driving is on its way,” said Dr. Detlef Jürss, Group Vice President and General Manager Product Group Seating Components at Johnson Controls. “In the future, the role of the person in the driver’s seat will shift from that of an ‘active driver’ to that of a ‘supervisor’ who must be able to intervene whenever necessary. The seat will become a multi-talented interior component that provides its strengths in safety, comfort, and entertainment.”

But it’s still a long way off until the vehicle takes over all control functions and the driver simply assumes the role of passenger, according to Jürss. Challenges that must first be overcome include details concerning the necessary investment-intensive infrastructure, liability and legal issues, ethical aspects (who do the safety systems protect?), technological feasibility, and safety.

“The seat will become much more of an integral part of occupant protection, which will be linked with all active safety systems within the vehicle,” said Jürss. Anticipated features of autonomous-vehicle interiors include a driver’s seat that can rotate to allow direct communication among passengers, or fully recline to a resting position. To enhance safety in such situations, seating components will be linked to the vehicle’s entire network of sensors and be capable of interaction, according to Johnson Controls.

The supplier already has developed the first approved fold-flat rear seat structure—similar to a business class seat on an aircraft—for an automaker and is bringing it to series production. The product complies with automotive safety regulations thanks to sensor technology that raises the seat to an upright position in the event of a crash.

Increasing comfort and well-being is another major focus for seating in autonomous vehicles. The seat must be able to react independently to sensor-based evidence of drowsiness or tension—for example, with an automated alarm or position adjustments over longer distances such as a massage function or pneumatic side bolsters.

“The seats of the future must offer the occupant, as a passive driver, all possible options for work, entertainment, and communication while traveling,” said Jürss, citing the integration of tablet holders, reading lights, and headphones as examples. “We can also envisage making the unused front passenger seat more flexible, turning it into an additional mobile office or living space when unoccupied, and offering non-slip compartments for personal items, drinks, or electronic devices, which can also be charged wirelessly.”

The supplier’s SD15 seating demonstrator at Frankfurt showcased some of these solutions, which are already under development.

Johnson Controls is not alone in addressing what the interiors of autonomous vehicles might look like. Faurecia revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show its Intuition demonstrator comprised of innovations enhancing onboard connectivity.

Faurecia already is finding that vehicle occupants want more autonomy and more opportunities to personalize their interior with seamless connectivity to the outside world.

“With Intuition, Faurecia is bringing not only better, but more intuitive, connectivity on-board vehicles,” said Gherardo Corsini, Customer Marketing Director, Faurecia. “Though we’ve not yet seen fully autonomous cars, we’re starting to develop the technologies needed to bring them to the road while offering passengers a preview of the innovations that will be part and parcel of the vehicle cabin of the future.”

Automatic adaptability to the driver’s situation is key. When a vehicle transitions to an autonomous mode, Intuition offers more comfort. Drivers can elongate their seat to relaxed mode while the center console slides back so the screen is always within reach. The screen also pivots toward the user for ease-of-use.

The ambience of the vehicle cabin also can adapt to the situation. For example, when the vehicle is in “partial hands-free mode” and the driver’s seat is in the “relax” position, interior light settings can automatically change to provide a more soothing environment.

The design study also emphasizes the integration of personal electronic devices. Smartphone and tablet screens can be projected onto the center console’s touchscreen to provide vehicle occupants access to mobile functionalities. Wireless charging stations, using induction technology, are located in the side doors, the glovebox, and the center console.

Another innovative feature of the Intuition concept is a “smart” decorative aluminum surface that forms a tactile dashboard, replacing traditional controls with touch-sensitive, integrated capacitive switches. Slight vibration and illumination are used to signal actions. Faurecia says it will increasingly employ this and other types of “infoskin” for switchless controls in its concepts and products. DecoControl Alu, as it’s called, is expected to first appear on 2018 model year vehicles.

Invisible screens and high-definition screens are also incorporated. The supplier has developed black panel technology that’s integrated with the instrument panel facing the front passenger. The screen remains invisible when not active, lighting up when in use. Located on the center console, high-definition, curved screens offer high image resolution and packaging freedom.

Intuition and all its features are ready for program development with automakers, Faurecia claims. The supplier foresees such designs and functionality inside the vehicles of 2020 and beyond—at the midpoint in the evolution of autonomous cars.

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