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Rethinking the interior of autonomous vehicles

Dr. Detlef Jürss, VP Engineering & CTO, Adient

Autonomous driving is on its way. It won’t happen overnight, but rather over a period of gradual development. Numerous driver assistance systems are already helping to make driving easier. 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.

However, true autonomous driving, where the vehicle takes over all control functions and the driver assumes the role of a passenger, is still a way off. Numerous challenges must be overcome including details concerning the necessary investment-intensive infrastructure, liability and legal issues, ethical aspects, technological feasibility and most of all safety.

Along with the changing roles of driver and vehicle, new and higher demands are being made of seating, which is in line with the diverse challenges in individual mobility that global markets are facing. For example, the highly congested conurbations and megacities in Asia are up against the classic long-distance routes in North America and a European mix of city and country roads. In these scenarios, demands for tailored seating concepts can be summarized under the terms of “workplace,” “communication and entertainment center,” or “relaxation zone,” accordingly.

Adient has concerned itself with the challenges that such mobility trends bring to car seating for many years. Therefore, we see the shift from a purely driver’s seat to an active safety system as a key starting point. 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. Additional features, such as a seat rotating in the opposite direction of travel to allow direct communication among passengers, or a seat in a resting position which must offer maximum safety in the event of a crash. Adient already offers high-strength components which in the future will be linked to the entire vehicle sensor technology and be capable of interaction.

Increasing comfort and well-being in the driver’s seat is the second key point. The seat becomes the driver’s partner for comfort and health. The main challenge for future seat applications lies in the intelligent interaction between seat sensors and actuators. The respective seat could be able to react to sensor-based evidence of drowsiness or tension, for example, with an automated alarm or position adjustments over longer distances. Various features, such as a massage function, armrests or pneumatic side bolsters, would enable the seat position to be adjusted ergonomically to individual needs. This is an area in which our RECARO Automotive Seating group has decades of expertise. Even regular checks of individual vital functions is conceivable.

The future role of the seat as a comfortable control unit also includes the possibility of a crash-resistant resting position. Our technological leadership in this area witnessed the first crash-approved rear-seat structure with lounge position going into production for a major automaker. Similar to a business class seat on an aircraft, the product meets the highest comfort requirements while complying with automotive safety regulations, thanks to sophisticated sensor technology that raises the seat to an upright position in the event of a crash.

The third starting point for the seat of the future is further development toward an entertainment and information forum. These seats must offer the occupant, as a passive driver, all possible options for work, entertainment and communication while traveling. This includes the integration of tablet holders, reading lights and headphones. We also envision making the unused front passenger seat more flexible, turning it into a mobile office or living space when unoccupied. Features could include non-slip compartments for personal items, drinks or electronic devices that could be charged wirelessly. Our AI17 seating demonstrator already showcases solutions being developed, thanks to innovative adjustment mechanisms and functions.

With the move toward autonomous driving, the requirements for vehicle interiors and seating will radically change. As the global leader in automotive seating, Adient is ready for such a change and we are looking forward to improving the experience of a world in motion.


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