Each year, Swiss automotive consultancy Rinspeed creates a crazed concept vehicle for the Geneva motor show.
In the past these have included the amphibious Rinspeed Splash, the Apple iPhone-controlled iChange and the sQuba, a Lotus Elise-based submarine inspired by the Spy Who Loved Me Bond flick. Ben Pulman actually drove the latter underwater - read the CAR review here.
Here’s 2015’s entry: the Rinspeed Budii, an electric city car capable of autonomous or manual driving.
The Budii: a ‘robotic friend on wheels’
That’s how Rinspeed describes its 21st concept car. The autopilot mode adapts to the habits and preferences of the car’s owner, and gives them the choice of battling through morning rush hour themselves or relaxing with a coffee.
The idea is that the car will drive itself on daily trips, such as the commute to work or the supermarket, while the owner can steer the car on ‘fun weekend trips’, says Rinspeed.
This all sounds a bit sensible for Rinspeed. Doesn’t it do anything mad?
There is one typically leftfield Rinspeed twist. The steering wheel is mounted on a swivelling motorised arm, so either of the two front-seat occupants can do the steering. Could solve a few arguments. Or maybe start a few. Also handy for left- and right-hand drive conversions.
If neither party feels like driving, the steering wheel parks itself in the middle of the dash and the car goes back to looking after itself.
Autonomous driving is an inevitability now then, is it?
Rinspeed believes so, although company CEO Frank Rinderknecht says ‘the transition from traditional to autonomous driving will take place in stages. Consequently, man and machine will still have a few years left to get used to this new form of mobility and the different interplay between people and technology it will entail, time they both will need.’
Rinspeed believes the number of traffic accidents worldwide could drop were autonomous vehicles widely adopted, although it accepts that 'even the best technology will not be perfect.' Perhaps in the future we will have to come to terms with some accidents that are a result of machine error, rather than human - an uncomfortable thought.
'We should not develop a blind, but rather a healthy faith in the new capabilities of the hardware and software,' says Rinderknecht. '[Autonomous cars] will keep learning each day, and as a result will get better and better at mastering the complex challenges of modern-day private transport.'