The future of the car

Flying cars, sleeping in on the way to work, cars that drive themselves to the dealer for maintenance, no more road casualties. These are all scenarios that both manufacturers and consumers have been dreaming about for decades. But will it ever become reality? MASTERS, together with two Dutch top designers, looks ahead to the future of the car.
Image header Jonathan IJzerman

Text: Natan Tazelaar

Image header: Jonathan IJzerman

Those blessed with some life experience may be familiar with the futuristic scenarios from the animated series The Jetsons, the fully artificial intelligence-controlled KITT from Knight Rider or at least the cars packed with gadgets that secret agent 007 was given on a mission by Q. In some cases These were overestimations of the technically feasible, but some inventions were still remarkably close to reality. For example, successful experiments have been going on with flying cars for decades, the Silent Mode with which Michael Knight could make his KITT whisper quiet is now daily practice for electric drivers and controlling cars remotely like James Bond is no longer fiction. It is difficult to predict what will be possible in the longer term, for example around 2050. However, car designers are used to looking into the future, so we spoke to Senior Vice President BMW Group Design Adrian van Hooydonk and Ivo Groen, who holds the position of Head of Creative Design at the Chinese Lynk & Co under the wings of Geely.

No priority

To start immediately with the least plausible – but at the same time most fascinating – scenario, we ask Van Hooydonk whether flying cars have ever been or are being discussed within BMW. “Flying cars are actually a dream we've had since about the 1960s,” he begins. “A problem with this is of course that we have seen it all before in science fiction, so that makes people impatient. At BMW we are busy with autonomous driving, but that takes place in two dimensions. If you go into the third dimension, i.e. into the air, it becomes even more complex. But airplanes actually fly mainly autonomously and that seems to be working,” he smiles and then says resolutely: “So I'm not saying that flying cars are impossible, but is it our first priority? No." Van Hooydonk clearly shows that certain forms of individual transport have their limits. Independently visiting grandmother in the countryside in the Achterhoek is something different than flying to work in the Zuidas. Van Hooydonk: “Some routes that you travel by train today might be a bit faster when flying autonomously. But in a while, will we all have an autonomous shuttle at home with which we can fly away? I don't know if we'll ever see that again…”

Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design

Have some fun racing

For many, a private plane is considered the ultimate form of luxury and a flying car could be considered a superlative, or at least an impressive addition. However, Ivo Groen provides an interesting insight into how he sees the combination of mobility and luxury in the future. “All this has to do with the current trend. I always compare it with our digital behavior. For example, we are now speaking with this videophone, but who knows who is listening to me now, what is happening with this telephone? My bank details, my house alarm, everything is there. So if I lose my phone, I'm screwed. But at the same time, and like many people, I prefer everything analog so that I can decide who comes into my life. So that digital saturation actually reaches a kind of climax,” sighs Groen. He pauses for a moment and then says: “You also see that trend when it comes to luxury. Nowadays you are allowed very little. For example, you are no longer allowed to drive fast. People realize that they drive a kind of iPhone with wheels every day and that is also quite practical, so they can accept that. But, during the weekend they would like to drive a Mille Miglia, go racing or visit another classic event. So they would like to have something to do with old and analogue cars, but this does not necessarily have to be part of everyday life. They also want to do that without it costing much effort. Nowadays you have companies that arrange that for you. People are looking for the freedom to race for a while, or simply enjoy a classic without it immediately requiring a lot of organization and time. They want to benefit immediately. That's why Mille Miglia cars, for example, are worth so much money. They offer direct access to a kind of club, a privilege, and people can therefore participate in, for example, the Le Mans Classic or The Tour Auto. Just like, for example, the Concours d'Elégance of Chantilly, which is sponsored by Richard Mille. At the gala you will also see people who you do not see at the competition, but who are allowed to be there because they have purchased a Richard Mille watch. So they get access to such an event and that is a form of luxury of which the car is only a part.”

Lynk & Co

Ivo Groen, Head of Creative Design at Lynk & Co

Artificial intelligence

The fact that modern traffic increasingly has an impact on mobility and driving is a fact that everyone must accept. But according to Van Hooydonk, this does not have to be an obstacle to the driving experience. “It's about more than just driving fast. It's actually about responsiveness and control. Even if you drive slower, or even just drive off or onto the motorway, you notice when a car responds perfectly to what you do and that is ultimately what our customers really want,” Van Hooydonk explains and then discusses the subject autonomously. driving in combination with artificial intelligence: “We do not yet see autonomous driving as a threat. We see it as something that will simply become part of what BMWs can do. Artificial intelligence is of course something we view very seriously. We do not want the customer to be part of the experiment or the learning process. Before we put that into production, those cars have to travel millions of kilometers autonomously. Machine learning does help with that, but in the end it just takes time and then you also have to build in a few systems that are redundant. So you have sensors and cameras and that data is then superimposed and this way you exclude as many errors as possible. That's a slightly different philosophy than other firms, I won't name names. That's just the way we deal with it and to date there has not been a serious accident involving BMW systems.”

1,35 million dead

The subject of safety traditionally and rightly receives above-average attention from car manufacturers, but with the arrival of electric and autonomous cars, new issues and challenges arise. Such as moral and legal obstacles. A certain tech entrepreneur from the US has been saying for years that it is possible and that his cars are ready for it, but the objections, opposition and even lawsuits and claims for damages from surviving relatives are piling up. You cannot make traffic safe with one silver bullet and the more you delve into it, the more painfully clear it becomes how much there is still to gain. Imagine that today, as a renowned inventor, you would come up with a mobility solution in which you propose that people can move independently, where and when they want. The only downside is that it causes approximately 1,35 million deaths per year worldwide and another 50 million serious or otherwise injured. In the current cancel culture, not a chip would remain intact of either the plan or the career of the inventor in question, but this is the reality we live in now. If we translate that number of fatal traffic accidents - not even including the injured - to the aviation industry, more than twelve medium-sized aircraft would crash every day (!). A completely unacceptable situation, according to not only the World Health Organization and the United Nations, but also manufacturers who have complied with the Vision Zero objectives. This is a plan that was launched in Sweden in the XNUMXs, and which aims to ensure a traffic situation in which there are no more deaths or serious injuries through numerous measures.

Mercedes-Benz focuses on accident-free driving

Accident-free driving

Mercedes-Benz has very recently taken this a step further by committing to a number of self-set goals. Markus Schäfer is a member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG as Chief Technology Officer and has a clear objective regarding safety in the future: “We are working hard to realize our vision of accident-free driving, which goes beyond the Vision Zero goals of the WHO and the United Nations Regional Commissions. We not only want zero road deaths in 2050 and a halving of the number of road deaths and serious injuries in 2030 compared to 2020. Our goal in 2050 is zero accidents involving a Mercedes-Benz vehicle.” These are extremely ambitious goals and if this sounds familiar, it is no coincidence. Volvo made similar statements years ago at the launch of the Vision 2020 project. It stated that from 2020 no one would be (fatally) injured in a new Volvo. These objectives were ultimately not achieved and human failure, for example under the influence of alcohol and drugs, turned out to be an important factor, according to Volvo. That is why the Swedish manufacturer started working on a system that should be able to use cameras to assess whether a potential driver is under the influence, after which the car will not be driven by that person. It goes without saying that such a system is relatively easy to develop and implement, especially with the help of artificial intelligence, but the moral and legal obstacles provide the greatest obstacles. For example, during your morning walk in the woods you will suddenly have to outrun an attacker to arrive at your car just in time, who will then decide that you are under the influence due to dilated pupils and excessive sweating and are therefore unable to drive. …

MASTERS Magazine

Curious about the rest of the article? You want this edition of MASTERS. A milestone in print, pushing the boundaries. Innovative. Surprising. Stunning. Including a very extraordinary guest editor. An interview with the man who pointed out to the Ajax Supervisory Board in 2015 the gaps within the organization that have now come to light. Merijn Zeeman explains how Jumbo-Visma has developed into a top sports company. Quoteman Paul van Riessen calculates how much you need to no longer have to work. Sabine Riezebos explains what sets Bernardus apart from other golf courses. A look at the Stratos Yacht yard, where the ultimate boat for carefree sailing pleasure is being built. And also the rise of robots (where is the sex robot?), Fake News and, exclusively in MASTERS: the 'new Doutzen Kroes'.


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