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Rear end treatment of the Volvo 360c is futuristic, but with a modern take on 1950s tailfins. (Volvo)

Volvo sees 360c concept as alternative to flying, autonomous-standards avatar

Volvo this week revealed what it believes could be a viable alternative to short-haul airliner travel: the 360c concept car, which offers a comfortable bed along with its fully autonomous, pure electric, connected and—naturally for Volvo—safety capabilities.

Volvo envisions the 360c as an option to the hassle out of flying from crowded airports and enduring tight seat-pitch misery, instead collecting its passengers from home and whisking them to their relatively nearby destination in a first-class cabin environment that would provide configuration choices of bedroom, office, living room and entertainment space.

Extreme design, new communication techniques
The 360c concept looks the part, with radical styling inside and out.

But it does have a primary intent, highlighting the need for a new global standard in how autonomous vehicles can safely communicate with all other road users. Autonomous capability and safety are closely linked and the technology, many believe, has the potential to deliver a significant improvement in traffic safety.

Because fully-autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be introduced in a mixed-traffic situation where vehicles without a human driver will share the road with other non-automated vehicles, it will no longer be possible to make eye contact with, and learn about, another driver’s intentions, a central element of today’s everyday traffic interaction, stresses the company.

As part of the development of the 360c, Volvo’s engineers are concentrating on how to establish a safe means of communication between AVs and those other road users.

And Volvo is focusing on the creation of a universally applicable standard.

The 360c addresses the issue with a system mixing external sounds, colors, visuals and movements, as well as combinations of these to communicate the vehicle’s intentions and ensure that at all times the intent for the AV’s next maneuver will be clear. An international standard for all vehicles would mean that road users would not have to consider how a particular make or brand of AV communicates its actions.

Comfy alternative to short-haul flying
As for the lifestyle aspect of the 360c’s design, Mårten Levenstam, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Volvo Cars, said: “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more.”

Volvo also regards autonomous technology as not only the next big step in safety but of the entire travel environment and “experience.”

The company regards U.S. short-haul flights—about 187 miles (300 km) or less—as a prime opportunity for alternative travel, stating that more than 740 million travelers embarked on such domestic flights last year, with busy domestic air routes such as New York to Washington DC, Houston to Dallas and Los Angeles to San Diego as being more time-consuming by air than by ground vehicle when travel to the airport, security checks and waiting times are all taken into consideration.

The 360c’s sleeping cabin allows a Volvo passenger to enjoy premium comfort and peaceful travel through the night. A special safety blanket included in the sleeping environment envisions a future restraining system that works just like the three-point safety belt, but is adjusted to people lying prone while traveling.

Volvo said that beyond new potential customer groups for its business, the concept also demonstrates implications for the future of travel in general and modern society’s environmental footprint: “It doesn’t just reimagine how people travel, but also looks at how people engage with friends and family while on the move and how they can recapture time when travelling in the cities of the future.”

“Autonomous vehicle concepts have a tendency to become a technology showcase instead of a vision of how people use it,” added Robin Page, Senior Vice President of Design at Volvo Cars. “But Volvo is a human-centric brand. We focus on the daily lives of our customers and how we can make them better. The 360c is the next iteration of this approach.”

Its novel view of AVs offering a viable commercial threat to short-haul airline business takes it a very long way from Volvo’s one-time image of creating tough, practical, safe—but dull—sedans and wagons. “Built like a tank and looks like one,” was just one of the back-handed compliments it had to endure.

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