Volvo wants you to skip the air travel and the train tracks, because its self-driving car, the 360c, is basically a room on wheels. You can sleep in it, work in it, socialize in it, all while getting to where you need to go. The tagline for the vehicle is even: "Why fly when you can be driven?"
“The business will change in the coming years, and Volvo should lead that change of our industry,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars in an official release on the company's website. “Autonomous drive will allow us to take the big next step in safety but also open up exciting new business models and allow consumers to spend time in the car doing what they want to do.”
The major airline companies certainly won't be happy about this, as the 360c would basically limit their usefulness to international trips. For domestic trips, however, anyone (unless they're in a very big hurry) would rather have their own personal space than wait in long lines, check bags, take off their shoes at security, and sit next to someone who keeps hogging the armrest.
“Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t. The 360c represents what could be a whole new take on the industry,” said Mårten Levenstam, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars. “The sleeping cabin allows you to enjoy premium comfort and peaceful travel through the night and wake up refreshed at your destination. It could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers.”
Come to think of it, the taxi business wouldn't like it much, either.
Right now, the 360c is just a concept, but it encapsulates everything we want out of self-driving cars, everything we've seen in movies like Minority Report and I, Robot. When paying attention to traffic and the rules of the road takes a backseat (quite literally) to comfort and covenience, then we'll have entered a new age of travel.
The main problem that Volvo needs to overcome is creating a computer navigational system that can react as quickly as the human mind/body. One fatal accident could send this vehicle back to the drawing board or kill it entirely if the public perception turns negative enough. Hopefully, it never comes to that.
“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” Levenstam added. “We do not know what the future of autonomous drive will hold, but it will have a profound impact on how people travel, how we design our cities and how we use infrastructure. We regard the 360c as a conversation starter, with more ideas and answers to come as we learn more.”