Rinspeed shows what the self-driving car will be like to ride in


December 12, 2013

The seats spin around to face each other

The seats spin around to face each other

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Autonomous driving has consistently made headlines throughout 2013, with car companies showcasing development vehicles and detailing individual components that will help usher in the era of the self-driving car, like adaptive cruise control and self-parking systems. But, if they really want to get us excited about autonomous technology, what they should be doing is showing us a clear vision of what all those technologies are leading to: a car that drives itself while you drink your coffee and read the paper as if you're still in your recliner at home. That's the tack automotive think tank Rinspeed has taken with its new XchangE concept car.

Rinspeed has a long history of revealing forward-thinking concepts at the Geneva Motor Show, most recently the microMAX urban vehicle and Dock+Go expandable car. Now it has turned its attention to the frontier of autonomous driving.

"So far hardly anyone has taken this to its logical conclusion from the perspective of the driver," explains Rinspeed chief Frank Rinderknecht. "After all, traveling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way."

We were intrigued by what Zoox had to say on the matter, and it's nice to see someone else weigh in. Rinspeed leaves the actual self-driving technologies to the auto manufacturers, focusing entirely on the user experience.

The XchangE electric touring sedan's cabin includes two rows of two seats. The front seats can either face forward traditionally or spin around to face the rear seats. The seats themselves are inspired by the comfortable, adjustable seats you'd expect to find in the business class of an airplane. From the looks of it, the front seats feature enough reclining to put you in near-prone position.

As tempting as it may be, not everyone will have the desire or ability to take a nap during the ride. The XchangE also includes a multimedia system for listening to music, surfing the Web, watching video content and playing games.

The XchangE appears to be conceived as a car that could completely drive itself from point A to B, but it is equipped with a steering wheel, presumably so the occupants can take over driving duties if they choose.

"And to make sure the steering wheel is not a hindrance, it can simply be "parked" in the middle of the dashboard, courtesy of state-of-the-art 'steer-by-wire' technology that can also be found on modern jet aircraft," says Rinspeed.

That's all Rinspeed has to say about the new concept for now, but hopefully it will have more information as Geneva's March 4 press opening approaches.

Source: Rinspeed

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Having recently tried a car with radar cruise control I can see the merits of relaxing in a vehicle while the car takes care of the rest. Granted, steering is all user, but was a freeway so not much input required.

My only concern around the design of these fully autonomous vehicles is how seats are able to rotate mid flight, because while seating backwards is actually safer then forward (think baby seats), sideways is dangerous.

To elaborate, I had a nice conversation with a police officer some time back, and he pointed out that a good percentage of road fatalities from broken necks were from drivers looking out the side at time of impact. ie - if your neck is not straight or if the dominant forces are not coming from the front or back, you have little strength in the neck to support the head. Hence broken neck.

So for this design, I hope they are considering incorporating a kill switch in the vehicle such that the vehicle will not start unless the seats are locked in forward or back facing positions. And cannot be rotated mid flight.


I don't think I would ever trust the technology enough to not keep my eye on the road. But there again, I spent many years in vehicle engineering and know just how often the unexpected can spoil a nice idea. Not only that, I am used to Microsoft. Any hint of their involvement and I suspect the 'Blue Screen of Death could all too easily become literal.

I suspect that this technology will develop as far as providing assistance to the driver in order to enable them to drive in a safe fashion, while being available to take over when the technology is faced with the inevitable wtf situation. The first any 'driver' facing rearwards would know of such might well also be the last they know of it.

Let's face it, we know that aircraft can fly autonomously today, yet there are no passenger carrying versions in use, and they operate in a tightly controlled environment where stray dogs, errant children and falling trees are extremely rare occurrences.

Mel Tisdale

Further thoughts to my earlier comment. We live in an age dominated by the motor car. This is most apparent in the urban environment. We also live in an age where life expectancy has risen significantly. Unfortunately, it is one thing to live longer, but another to retain quickness of thought and reaction to be able to safely drive a motor vehicle. As things stand this will result in older people being excluded from visiting places that younger people can do freely.

One can envisage a situation where vehicles equipped with this technology were specifically designated for those older members of society whose driving ability was not up to par for general use, but quite acceptable for urban situations, though I would still not like the idea of the designated 'driver' being allowed to sit facing rearwards. They must retain some function that requires them to monitor the road situation and be ready to act should the need arise, such as being required to drive the wrong way along a carriageway at the direction of a police officer who is controlling traffic around some incident that has blocked the other carriageway.

Another thought is that terrorists or pranksters might just find a way of hacking or interfering with the control system, with potentially catastrophic results, especially if the driver is asleep with his seat in the fully prone condition. The upside is that he/she would be in an ideal position to change the oil in the back axle of the lorry they have just run into the back of, though avoiding the lorry altogether has to be preferable, and they will only stand a chance of doing that if they are watching the road and everything going on, both on and around it.

Mel Tisdale

Everyone gets to rub knees. How delightful. But, if mass transit is not convenient or available, an automonous car would perhaps be less costly than hiring a cab or limo.

Bruce H. Anderson

When I want to relax, I'll just take public transportation. The concept of an automobile automatically interacting with traffic, weather, surprise events, incompetent other drivers, and doing so in a stable, predictable,software code and electronics fail safe mode and a safe on road manner is in my view, an engineering fantasy that I want no part of.

Granted, under ideal circumstances, it ought to work. It might even assist safety in white-out situations if the radar detects the speed and presence of other vehicles ahead AND behind, but frankly I doubt it can actually handle this properly as there are too many unmeasured variables.

If you can't or don't want to drive, take a bus, I don't want you on my road, sailing along oblivious to what's happening and when things go wrong, blaming the vehicle and its controls.


I think the concept of what a self-driven car of the near future will look like has not been really developed. It will lose its rectangular shape and it will be more like a round space with a table in the center. There will be no danger of collisions. Or perhaps it will came in many other configurations, maybe even with a sleeping bed for long trips.


@Mel. Ye of little vision. This is not a concept for a society transitioning from manual to automated cars; this concept is an attempt to show the future where ALL vehicles have already been automated: "So far hardly anyone has taken this to its LOGICAL CONCLUSION from the perspective of the driver."

Sure, there will still be the potential for accidents, but that potential will be FAR less (very close to zero) than when humans are at the wheel. When all cars are computing, communicating, and sharing all parameters, and with failsafes built into the roads "driving" will not be driving anymore; it will be transporting/riding. Even re-routing can be automated. Your concerns are for a transitioning society and unfounded for a fully-automated one. Hacking is a concern, NOW, but hopefully in the era of fully-automated transport, systems will be secured quantum-ly.


this idea has been on my mind for quite some time now. thanks rinspeed for making it heard by everyone. you need to think a little outside of the box for this concept. and rinspeed's drawing almost a duplicate of my vision, but a little too conventional for me. i don't see why the car should be in a shape of a current car at all. i was thinking it must have a work space or relax area, and more in a shape of a big bubble, like a moving one-room-house. too bad i can't draw.

basically, one just enter the vehicle, say / input the destination, then the vehicle will communicate with traffic controller and decide the route. the person will have the ability to switch to manual at anytime, including kill switch.

these vehicles are perfect for taxi cab, but driverless. the energy will be renewable by itself. if one is about to go somewhere, he just simply order the car, online. the closest vacant car will arrive, and take him to destination. and so on.

for safety, apart from the traffic controller, the vehicle already has tons of sensors, it should be able to avoid accident. today's technology already closing in on that. by the time this tech is implemented, cars should already be very very safe.

for security, well let's just say, there's no terrorists in the future, it's a happy place, why bother. besides, if the state can protect critical system like traffic light, electric lines, metro rail, why should this be any different?

Henry Djunaedi

I think the first goals will be to just make the cars as crashless as possible so nobody gets hurt, like riding the old model T car ride at Six Flags. It feels like you are driving, by you can't drive off the road because the car is tethered to a rail. And you can't hit the car in front of you hard either. It will be like that but with virtual rails and a virtual pillow in front to keep you back from the car in front of you. My 2014 Subaru with Eyesight has adaptive cruise, and it feels like a giant invisible pillow in front of the car that keeps you at least 1 second behind the car in front of you, all the way down to a full stop if required. Later it could become driverless like a roller coaster, where the operator is liable for any crashes, which will be almost never.


I believe the crashless car technology will advance to the point where it will almost be a crime to not have this on your vehicle if it could have prevented a serious accident. Kind of like the commuter train crash in NY. The technology exists to prevent train crashes, and it is is in use in many rail systems around the country. So it is criminal that this train didn't have it.


Autonomous cars?....Forget cars...what about a double storey vehicle for large families or for all your mates?... :)

Matthew Chard

My guess is that I would find it disorienting to ride backwards. Plus you are losing the legroom under the dash. However trying to converse with someone behind you is irritating as well. If a tablet is in the dash, it could be put in the back of the front seat as well. They could be linked and with Bluetooth earphones if you want face to face conversations without turning around.

I like the steering wheel sliding to center. That would need to be improved by having it recess into the dash while in the center to prevent accidental manual overrides.

As for the idea of a round seating area or round vehicles, aerodynamics and vehicle handling constraints will not change so neither will basic form factors.

I don't see a big need for automation for around town errands with the exception of accident prevention. On long trips the automation would be indispensable. I dream of the day when I can set my car to drive to X several hundred miles away, then take a nice long nap, arriving rested and ready to go.


@ kalqlate

Yes, I am of little faith. I have spent far too many years in the engineering function of a major car manufacturer to be anything else as far as this whole notion of autonomous cars is concerned.

As I have before, I reckon it will last until the first major accident due to a sensor fault. There is a TED talk on hacking into GPS so that it shows the wrong location. That should be enough to raise alarm bells in any car manufacturer's mind, especially in any nation where litigation is the first response when anything happens.

Mel Tisdale

I definitely believe that 'down the road' (whether 10 years or 50) autonomous vehicles will be the norm and there probably won't even be an option for the human to take manual control. I'd love to be around to see it (better chance at 10 years than 50 though). I love thinking not only of the user experience but also the societal effects this would have, e.g., less people staying in hotels as they would just sleep in the car and continue on their way; less vehicles per family as my wife would go to work then program it to come back home and then I could go to work and send the car back to her. Who needs 2 cars for that scenario. Now car insurance goes down. Can't wait.


Ready to test drive Nissan for 2020 model year alone when Self Drive

Stephen Russell

This might mean an end to tipsy taxis' maybe one could preprogram the car for auto track home after a night of too much fun. This could mean a big bone for bars and a set back to DUI revenues. Road side motels, will take a hit, and possibly the airline industry if they keep trying to stuff 5 people in the space for 2.


I like the fact that they have tried to consider the interior space, "assuming" that the actual driving technologies etc are taken care of.

Why not take that to its logical conclusion?

The actual 'transport' element could be entirely separable from the user cabin space.

Different trips would involve different 'drive units', but the same cabin could be used for any of them ... even if you needed to interchange between them during a particular journey

So, for local urban transport, the cabin could dock to a small, relatively low-speed, highly manoeuverable platform that could navigate effectively between and even within buildings, probably based on electric drive without the need for heavy range and speed/performance requirements.

For longer journeys, the pod units could either transfer to full-on highway drive vehicles (long distance, independent, point-to-point) or join 'trains' (long distance, bulk, hub-to-hub).

As per an earlier post, the drive units don't actually even need to stay ground-based ... imagine if your own pod could dock into an air vehicle (or - given that we are looking at taking things to their logical conclusion here - to a space vehicle)

ALSO @Mel - older people, yes - but also consider younger people. Imagine a child who is not considered competent or responsible enough to drive - who could now have the ability to get to where they need to go without being reliant on a parent to take them there!

I'd love it - but my son (now 11) is worried that by the time he is old enough to drive they won't allow dangerous humans any more!


Kalqlate - you are right about transition periods. I lived in Lago, Nigeria when they transitioned from driving on the left (Ex British colony) to driving on the righ like everyone else. They asked trucks to change on one day, private cars the next! It was wild....


How long would it take for some smartass kid or kids to hack the controls? Also, what about the vengeful Ex or Soon-To-Be-Ex? How many minutes would it take for the many Valley Porn Entrepreneurs to think Road Trip up the PCH at sixty? Or, lets go for the pun, sixty nine? And we all know Microtrash SW is less than robust so do you really want to turn over the controls to someone not even there? The FAA just concluded that the principal cause of the hard & short landing of that Japanese 737 was that the otherwise experienced crew was overly reliant on technology. They were too distracted to notice that their airspeed & rate-of-descent had fallen well below the well known speeds needed for a safe, controlled landing. I would prefer to remain in command of whatever I am riding in and that other drivers do the same.



It goes way beyond that. With autonomous cars, people don't even need to own them. They can rent and share them as necessary. Think about how wasteful it is right now to spend $30,000 on an item that does nothing but take up a parking space most hours of the day. Others should be able to use it when you're not. That would spread the cost out. If nobody else needs it, the autonomous car would go find a parking space and charge up once you've exited. The citywide system would know where there's a shortage of cars or a spike in demand and automatically move them to where they're needed. Roads would be able to handle much more traffic because autonomous cars don't need to keep a couple of car lengths between cars. They can be literally bumper to bumper, as they can accelerate or brake simultaneously since they're all wirelessly connected rather than relying on slow, imprecise, short-range human senses and reflexes. No traffic jams because there won't be any selfish, impatient humans flouting laws like beating the light, blocking the box, speeding or making illegal turns.

It would be the closest thing to utopia on the roads.


If you see one of these on-road with blacked out windows, the bumper sticker: "If it's movin, we're groovin" might be literally true! Imagine the amusement chances of really freaking out the driver - facing you - by assuming a WTF! face and pointing behind him though the windscreen ... LOL

The Skud

I'm thinking that the experience of riding in a self driving car on urban intersecting streets, with autonomous vehicles meshing and narrowly missing one another by mere inches, would be so terrifying and stressful that they would not have windows. Windows are replaced by immersive, 3D displays depicting pastoral settings of countryside streaming by accompanied by soothing Commuter Musac. A sun roof, perhaps. So you can watch for plummeting flying cars coming at you?

John Hagen-Brenner

If car manufacturers and traffic authorities had started concentrating on more autonomy instead of more power then we would all have self driving cars by now. Fact is, when we go out to buy a new car we are really looking for a fashion accessory not a practical appliance.


I feel like I am reading something from the 1950s and 1960s. I recall seeing numerous renderings of futuristic cars that could fly and drive themselves. What about the automated house? Our kitchen has a fridge, oven, stove, dishwasher, toaster, waffle iron, blender, mixer, etc. All these technologies were around in very much the same form in the 50s and 60s. Certainly our media and communication tools have changed.

As for the dangerous activity of driving, folks in the bye-gone days never envisioned the problems already raised by other commenters, such as software bugs, glitches, hackers and more. How is a computer driven car going to know what a human driven car is going to do? I wouldn't want to be in a car, facing the wrong way while approaching a stop light and have the car computer freeze even for a moment. Would you? I'm pretty sure I will be keeping my hands on the wheel and my foot close to the brake for a long time to come.

Bob Grahame
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