Interview with Klaus Zyciora, Head of Volkswagen Group Design
After electric mobility, autonomous driving is the next big game changer of future mobility – and the impact on car design will be fundamental here too. In the second part of our interview with Klaus Zyciora we look at what’s in store for users.
Mr Zyciora, at the end of the first part of the interview we spoke about the Audi grandsphere concept study. The concept vehicle impressively demonstrates which direction the autonomous mobility journey could take. How do you view this topic?
For me it’s nothing less than the next stage of the mobility revolution. So far on inter-city business trips, I have to devote my attention to the road traffic the entire time – and making phone calls at the same time can be really stressful. If my car is self-driving, however, the journey is already part of my working time: processing emails, taking part in videoconferences ... the freedom is tremendous.
To what extent does this impact the design of the car?
Autonomous driving makes the vehicle interior almost like an open playing field for us as designers. For example, if we no longer need a specific driver’s seat in the future, we can rethink and rearrange the interior completely differently. The space is increasingly becoming a room that can be arranged quite freely. Consider the steering wheel: in the first configuration levels of autonomous driving it will still be present, but at some point it can simply be dispensed with, becoming obsolete and simply getting in the way. Our job is to utilise these formal opportunities to the utmost and in a dedicated manner in the interest of our customers – naturally always keeping safety in mind.
And what might a vehicle interior look like then?
On the one hand this largely depends on the particular vehicle types and shapes. Compact cars, touring saloons, camper vans ... the shapes are familiar today, but with the developments mentioned we will find their interiors completely redesigned to a large extent. At the same time, the technological progress means that we will be able to replicate the needs of the people who use these vehicles even more accurately.
Fleet customers are of utmost importance for us.
What role do fleet customers play in this?
It’s quite clear: fleet customers are of utmost importance for us. The ability to work in the car as mentioned and the length of time sitting in the car on business trips is focusing attention once more, for example, on the quality of the seating in particular. Can I comfortably spend two hours on board – or does my back start to hurt after just half an hour? Facing customers with a tortured smile on emerging from the car – that’s not really on. What is important here is to ensure interaction between technology, design and scenario thinking.
Scenario thinking – how does that work?
To continue with the example: we have developed various processes that we can use to relive the customer journey of business travellers. It’s not just about the seating quality in this respect, rather about questions like: What can I do during a three-hour, possibly fully autonomous journey? What do I need in my direct surroundings and in what arrangement? Such practically focussed thinking gives rise to practical solutions. We naturally also use the specific feedback of many client companies for this purpose and test out different things together with them. I suppose you could say, we see ourselves as an advocate for users.
This all sounds very promising, but we are still some way off a fully driverless car ...
That’s true. The challenge that has to be overcome is enormous. But we also don’t do things by half-measure in the Group and unleash any beta versions on our client companies. The possibility of driving autonomously is based on three sensory levels – the lidar view, i.e. the laser scanner view, the photosensory view via camera and the radar view, which is used to additionally scan what is happening around the car. At the highest configuration level, this gives the autonomous vehicle a level of vigilance that a human could never achieve. Only: combining these three different sensory levels is extremely complex. That’s why thousands of engineers are currently working on accomplishing all of this – ultimately the result has to be so perfect and reliable that the vehicle occupants trust the technology fully. Otherwise, relaxed video calls on board will not work out either, even though the interior might be really well thought out and comfortable.
Autonomous vehicles will form part of the streetscape in the coming years, initially on motorways – and then eventually in urban areas too.
When do you think it will happen: when will fleet managers be able to deploy the first autonomous fleets?
From a testing perspective, autonomous vehicles will form part of the streetscape in the coming years, initially on motorways – and then eventually in urban areas too. But it will probably still take some time until there is extensive penetration of the fleet sector. I reckon it will be the next decade. You have to remember that it is not just the technology that has to be ready. On the one hand, we have to deal with the most diverse regulatory authorities and regulations around the world; on the other hand, the proper infrastructure also has to be put in place first: to use several sensory levels redundantly in relation to each other, as we intend, extreme processing power is needed. And: it is important not to lose sight of the customer. People sometimes do not change as quickly as the technology around them.
All the better then that we are already talking about this today …
Absolutely! And also good that our CEO Herbert Diess is a powerful advocate of the topic. Under his direction, we can be truly innovative and progressive as a Group. And this is also what will enable us as designers to think ahead as freely as possible.
Read the first part of our interview with Klaus Zyciora on how vehicle design is changing due to the paradigm shift towards electric mobility.
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