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Autonomous Volvo 360c Concept Wants You to Ride Instead of Fly

Finned travel pod has highly configurable interior

Volvo has revealed its 360c concept, and as we predicted, the car is an all-electric, autonomous people mover. To set its concept apart from the many other autonomous rolling living rooms we’ve seen over the years, Volvo designed the 360c to do one thing in particular: compete with commercial airlines.

The 360c won’t get you overseas, obviously, but Volvo believes its concept could pose a threat to domestic air travel, an industry it says is worth billions just in the U.S. The 360c would be targeted at short flights, trips where driving could be an option if it was more convenient or comfortable. Examples include Los Angeles to San Diego, Washington, D.C. to New York, and Houston to Dallas. Volvo thinks many people would prefer a luxurious vehicle that takes you from door to door over the hassle of going to the airport, even if it means longer travel times.

Like most autonomous vehicle concepts, the 360c adopts a tall, somewhat boxy shape to maximize interior volume. Because there’s no driver’s seat to work around, the cabin can be configured in a number of ways. Passengers enter through a wide gullwing door, which could lead to a spacious living room setup with a seat that can convert to a bed, or a mobile conference room with an interactive table and coffee maker. There’s even one rendering showing a lounge-like arrangement complete with cushy bench seats and champagne. There also appears to be a digital personal assistant built into the car, and the windows double as augmented reality displays.

If Volvo’s travel pods actually do look like this, they might steal a few customers away from airline companies. But there are many hurdles that need to be overcome before a fully autonomous vehicle like this becomes a reality. The 360c concept exists in a future where infrastructure for both autonomous cars and electric vehicle charging are sufficiently developed. We’re still many years away from that future, but Volvo sees the 360c concept as “a first yet deliberate step towards a broad discussion about the potential for autonomous driving technology to fundamentally change society in many ways.”

“When the Wright brothers took to the skies in 1903, they did not have a clue about what modern air travel would look like,” said Mårten Levenstam, Volvo’s senior vice president of corporate strategy, in a release. “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.”

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