Usually when car companies talk about autonomous driving, it’s usually around the context of urban areas as a means to reduce congestion and accidents. Volvo, however, has decided to take on the skies with its 360c concept, which seeks to compete with airliners when it comes to short-haul travel.

Gothenburg says that with the 360c, you can board your own first-class cabin that will whisk you directly to your destination, without having to bother with airport security, hours of queuing and waiting and noisy, cramped commercial planes. It’s certainly an appealing concept, especially to frequent flyers who are often encumbered by the hassles of air travel.

Volvo is targeting domestic flight operators in particular, specifically over distances of around 300 km. It sees a lucrative business opportunity in places like the United States, where the domestic air travel industry is worth billions of dollars in revenue with over 740 million travellers last year.

The company gave the examples of flights from New York to Washington DC, Houston to Dallas and Los Angeles to San Diego, which are more time-consuming than trips by car after taking to account things like travel to the airport, security checks and waiting times.

But the 360c isn’t only about competing with leading aircraft makers and airliners. Volvo is also envisioning a future in which autonomous driving redresses the work-life balance and shapes the world of travel, city planning, infrastructure and modern society’s impact on the environment, and this rolling technical showcase has been designed to meet those needs.

Without the need for a driver’s seat and a steering wheel, the interior of the 360c can be reconfigured to become a sleeping cabin, a mobile office, a living room or an entertainment space. As expected, it runs on electric power, although no technical specifications exist – for now, this is all a flight of fancy.

This is Volvo after all, so safety has also been given a rethink. Autonomous technology is expected to be introduced gradually rather than overnight, which means that fully self-driving vehicles will share the road with other motorists and pedestrians.

As such, the 360c puts out a vision of a universal standard for autonomous vehicles to communicate with other road users – one that isn’t reliant on the make of individual autonomous cars. It uses a series of external sounds, colours, visuals and movements to indicate the vehicle’s intentions to other road users, crucially without directing or instructing other road users.

Occupant safety was another area that was looked at, as the adaptability of the car’s cabin could have major implications on safety. A special blanket was introduced that would work as a restraining system just like a three-point safety belt, designed for people lying down while travelling.

Last but not least, Volvo says that fully autonomous electric travel not only delivers advantages such as less pollution and traffic congestion – and the health and lifestyle benefits that come with them – for urban dwellers, but could also change the fundamental structure of daily life.

By transforming unproductive or boring travel time into useful and enjoyable minutes or hours on the road, says the company, the flexibility of the 360c would allow users to live outside the city, bringing with it reduced pressure and real estate pricing for more affordable home ownership.

“People becoming less reliant on proximity to cities is just one example of the impact of removing the burden of unproductive travel time,” said senior vice president of corporate strategy Mårten Levenstam. “The 360c driving office makes it viable for people to live at greater distances from crowded cities and use their time both in a more pleasant and more effective way.”

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