Did you know that up until the 1990s, in the wake of terrorism and growing unrest in the Middle East and the Sinai Peninsula, there were rally events that ran from London to Sydney? We all know about the Paris-Dakar Rally, which is no longer held on the same continent due to security risks, but there was once a time when people were willing to take roadtrips that would be unbeatable or illogical in this day and age.
But Volvo envisions a future where we return to this tradition, albeit for shorter distances and in a non-competitive fashion. As China seeks to build their global highway network that will allow you to literally drive around the world, the idea of a globe-spanning roadtrip sounds a little more feasible. But what if it could be done autonomously? Would we still need to spend copious amounts of money on flights from place to place? Volvo's 360c concept is their vision of a door-to-door vehicle, fully integrated with its surroundings and offering total autonomous operation.
A couple of years ago this was the rage - manufacturers were developing self-driving concepts that would effectively take the driver out of the equation. But these concepts usually didn't have a solid context or application, and Volvo sees the 360c as a way to evade pesky queues at the airport and invasive security checks. The 360c is a fully autonomous, fully electric car that doesn't even have room for a driver. It's a moving pod a-la Minority Report, and Volvo foresees four different arrangements.
For the long-haul commuter or traveller, there's the sleeping configuration where the entire vehicle functions as a moving bed. For those on the go who need to be connected all the time, there's the mobile office configuration. The living room space presents a seamless transition between the living room in your house and one on the move, allowing you to step from your home to your destination with hardly a break in mood. And then there's the entertainment space, which is essentially a smaller party bus.
While these applications work within the context of a one to two hour commute, it's a bit of a stretch to regard it as an alternative to short-haul flights. Well, that is unless you've actually attempted a car-versus-plane race, and from what we've seen it comes to almost the same amount of time once you factor in check-in times, security checks, waiting for the flight, baggage claims, and so on and so forth. For a flight from say, Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, you could very well crawl out of bed at 5 am, hop into your 360c, and be at the Singaporean immigration by sunrise - without the hassle of airports.
And like most autonomous concepts, the 360c is also one that aims at full integration with that sneaky Volvo twist - they're bringing family time into the picture. Where other luxury brands have focused more on the luxury aspect of it, Volvo is trying to regain lost family time that you would spend on the move, and it's definitely a different approach than what we're used to seeing for autonomous concepts.
While it may never actually go into production, the study paves the way for advances in travel, city planning, infrastructure, and environmental footprints. It may be an autonomous car, but it's the Volvo of autonomous cars.