Volvo 360c: Should airlines be concerned?

Amid the scooter and bike wars, one thing has become evident: Cars, as we know them today, will become obsolete. Indeed, as a recent CB Insights report shows, the majority of car travel can be completed using alternative means of transportation that are greener, cheaper, and more space-efficient. With this in mind, Volvo gave us a taste of how the future of cars may look - and it is not as dark as you may have thought.

First Class Cabin: Level 5

The 360c concept is an electric vehicle whose similarities to your average car end at the existence of four wheels. The futuristic concept, which may or may never be produced, aims to show that cars can remain relevant if reimagined. Based on the fundamental concept of autonomy, the Level 5 autonomous vehicle will be capable of doing the driving for you under any scenario. Accordingly, the pedals, steering wheel, and other driving-specific equipment have been removed. This created the space for new designs: as Volvo's website reveals, the 360c will be available in different "forms" targeting the needs of different riders. The interior can be available as a bed with a side table for people who want to sleep during their drive. Other configurations include seating booths, which will supposedly initiate conversation between the passengers of the 360c and even individual desks, which will presumably allow the passengers to work while commuting. In each case, the cabin is enclosed with glass, which allows passengers to enjoy panoramic views while they are being driven to their destination. 

Airlines Beware!

Imagine you have an early morning meeting in a neighbouring city. You have two options to get there – a short-hop flight from your local airport, or a fully autonomous pure electric travel solution that can deliver you directly to your meeting place, having avoided check-in, queueing, flight delays, security checks and everything else that is part of air travel. Which would you choose?
— Source: Volvo

Although the 360c includes every technological gimmick imaginable, from advanced head-up displays to different mood modes that can even help you start a party, the most interesting aspect of it is the way it will be used in the future. Volvo is clearly taking aim at airline companies - supposedly those offering short-haul flights: although a NY - Boston flight, for example, only takes 45 minutes, the overall time committed to getting to/from the airport, going through security checks, and reclaiming suitcases, often surpasses 3 hours. The unparalleled luxury and undeniable convenience of riding the 360c all the way from one's hotel in NY to their final destination in Boston may make up for a slightly longer commute. Although this point is not discussed further by Volvo, I would not be surprised to see autonomous vehicles cutting travel times even further: assuming a Level 5 vehicle will operate in a world in which infrastructure and vehicle technology allow for practically error-free navigation, who says these self-driving miracles will not be able to travel at much higher average speeds than ordinary vehicles?  

Will everything else remain unchanged, though?

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Admittedly, Volvo is presenting an interesting concept, but in doing so, it assumes that the rest of the transportation industry will remain unchanged. As most industry experts suggest, the level of autonomy required to remove a steering wheel from a vehicle (i.e. Full Level 5 autonomy), is much farther away than the reckless use of terms like "self-driving" by the media would have you believe. By the time the 360c becomes a reality (if it does), flying may have also evolved into a  seamless experience (Uber Elevate could be one way in which commuting from/to airports can be almost hassle-free). Additionally, the use of big data could allow the efficiency of train services to skyrocket: imagine a world in which the live gauging of the demand for a direct train service allows the train company to operate a direct P2P service with no additional stops. Regardless of the above, though, the fact that the 360c is pushing people to have a go at reimagining an area of transportation that has remained largely unchanged through the years is fascinating - Volvo seems to be achieving its purpose. 

Photo Credit: Volvo