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  6. Expanding the comfort zone

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Expanding the comfort zone

Autonomous driving has many advantages.

With the project “The 25th Hour”, Audi is using laboratory conditions to research how we can make use of time in the car of the future – on the computer, watching Netflix, shopping or simply catching up on sleep.

On the drive to work, the typical commuter – we’ll call him Christian Koch – drives to his daughter's preschool, past a construction zone bottleneck and along the congested stop-and-go city ring road. To finish, he can look forward to a hectic ten minutes in the parking garage. A drive that could be possible in 20 minutes takes Christian Koch a stressful half-hour or more. By the time he picks his son up from soccer practice, he will have spent more than one hour in the car today. During this time, he might have listened to some news on the radio, or held a hands-free phone call with his sales colleagues. But otherwise? Wasted time. 

Germans spend an average of 60 minutes a day in the car.

Audi built a simulator that recreates automated driving.

On the way to and from work, taking the kids to practice, shopping … one hour, down the drain. It is precisely this valuable time that’s the focus of “The 25th Hour”, a forward-looking, scientifically-based project from Audi Trend-Kommunikation. The project examines as realistically as possible how we can use the time while we are sitting in our self-driving cars in the not-too-distant future.

The car as a workplace and retreat

“With piloted driving, the car is more than a mode of transport,” says Audi CEO Rupert Stadler in describing the underlying idea. “It will become a place of value creation and focused work. It will become a place to retreat and unwind, in keeping with the cocooning trend. In the more distant future, the car might even become a rolling bed that affords us an extra hour of sleep on a long trip.” The driver is no longer the guide, but an occupant. The day gains what feels like a 25th hour.

A small team led by Christian Günthner in Trend-Kommunikation at Audi is working on what this car of the future has to have, what a premium experience in a self-driving car should look like. Their partner in doing so: Kathrin Pollmann from the Fraunhofer Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation (IAO). In a first step, researchers accompanied people in Hamburg, San Francisco and Tokyo in order to learn how they use infotainment services in the car and what they would do in the car if they had more time. The findings were discussed with psychologists, anthropologists, city and mobility planners, and broken down into time modes. The three modes now at the focus include productive time (work), quality time (phone calls with family) and down time (online shopping, watching a movie, listening to music).

30 millennials tried the driving simulator

Under laboratory conditions, 30 test subjects were then put to a driving simulator – at the Fraunhofer IAO in Stuttgart, in a device produced by Audi itself to recreate automated driving – with variable interiors and no steering wheel. Large-screen projections depict a city drive at night. Scientists play digital impulses on screens, the windows can be dimmed, and the color of the lights and the sound effects can vary. 

The test group

The 30 young test subjects who were selected have an open mind when it comes to self-driving cars.

  • Affinity for technology: The test subjects are always online 90%

Demographic: Age ranges of the test subjects:

  • Gen Y (1980–1995): 77 %
  • Gen X (bis 1980): 14 %
  • Gen Z (seit 1995): 9 %

A waterfall as the ideal background noise

An EEG hood with integrated electrodes measures brainwaves, sensors on the fingers measure electrodermal activity (EDA). “Together, they are indicators that provide information on the subjective well-being, the fitness and the stress level of the occupants,” explains Kathrin Pollmann.

In individual experimental blocks, data were collected and used to produce an ideal light and sound concept for productive time. What should the light be like in a dimmable, glass/display screen housing where occupants encounter interior and exterior stimuli? The results show that blue light promotes concentration. The light frequency suppresses a hormone that in turn stimulates fatigue. The ideal background noise was researched using tests with the relaxing sound of a waterfall. In addition, researchers measured the time at which digital stimuli became too distracting and how much information the occupant could handle overall.

Laboratory situation: Projection of a nighttime city drive and digital stimuli.

“We are following the assumption that an intelligent man-machine interface can learn individual preferences of the occupants and adjust itself flexibly. In our vision, Audi customers thus gain full control over their time – they become confident time managers,” says Günthner. “We all know the impact that mobile devices have on our everyday lives. Studies show that we touch our smartphones more than 2000 times a day. That can lead to constant multi-tasking and thus to stimulus-overload.”

The car that Günthner is imagining is both a mode of transportation and a place to unwind for those that urgently need it – because they are only capable of reacting rather than being creative. “What is exciting for us is how we can create the optimal conditions for every activity in keeping with an individual’s preferences.” In a digital future, there are no limits to what can be imagined; the car could offer everything – a true flood of information. “Ideally, my car of the future will know and respect me and become an intelligent membrane. The right information should reach the user at the right time,” is how Christian Günthner explains the idea.

The windshield becomes a touchscreen

The results from the experiments in the futuristic driving simulator help design the car of the future: If the occupant wants to switch to productive time, the smart glass of the windshield shifts from transparent to opaque, the background sound changes, the smart glass can transform into a touchscreen. The occupant glides quietly through the city as if being driven by a reliable, safe and expert chauffeur. In normal driving mode, it all resembles a smooth drifting in which messages from one's smartphone or advertisements can appear on the smart glass.

Christian Koch will definitely be able to look forward to the commute of the future. While the vehicle takes his daughter to preschool, the two can do a puzzle together. The rest of the way, Koch can look at the stock quotes running on the smart glass or review the documents for his next appointment. And some days, he would be happy to be stuck in traffic again. Then he would dim the glass, put his seat into sleep mode, have Bach play softly in the background, and Christian Koch could finally enjoy his extra hour of sleep. The 25th hour, that is.

From driver to user

A car that’s always driving

Many people today own their own cars but use them relatively infrequently. 
In the future, several people could share an autonomous car: When one passenger has reached his destination, the car picks another up another passenger. Because people can work, read and sleep in the car – that is, they gain a “25th hour” – the occupancy time in the vehicle could even rise.

Today:

  • One owner per car
  • Driving Time: Concentration on traffic

Future:

  • Several users per car
  • Down Time: time to relax and sleep
  • Quality Time: Time with friends and family or to read
  • Productive Time: Time to work