Faurecia’s Self-Driving Car Seat Knows When You Need a Massage
Sure, the biggest benefit of the coming age of self-driving cars will be a drastic drop in fatal crashes. But the more immediately tangible upside of handing over control to the robot will be how your life inside the car changes. No more easing your foot off the brake just enough to roll forward in gridlock. No more sinfully checking your phone instead of watching the road. No more worrying that dozing off will lead to a coma.
And as life inside the car fundamentally changes, the inside of the car needs to change, too. That’s the impetus behind the newly announced partnership of French automotive supplier Faurecia and Stanford’s Center for Design Research. At the Connected Car Expo today in Los Angeles, the two will present joint research into how to make riding in a self-driving car feel safe, comfortable, and enjoyable.
We’ve seen concepts related to this idea before, most notably Mercedes’ F015 concept, a hunk of metal packed with white leather, black carbon fiber, and more touchscreens than CES. The Chevy-FNR concept is a terrifying, exhilarating take on the same idea.
But Faurecia and Stanford haven’t whipped up an entire interior. They’ve focused on fundamentally changing one part of the car: the seat.
The “Active Wellness Seat,” also on display at the Connected Car Expo, takes things we’ve had for a while—heated and cooled seating, plus massage functions—and puts them to use in the autonomous car. The concept, which looks and feels, they say, just like a normal seat, is rigged with sensors to read your heart and respiration rates. It uses that data to deduce your stress, energy, and drowsiness levels, then takes action accordingly.
The thinking here is that even in an autonomous car, you should be calm and awake, in case something goes awry. And while letting go of the wheel can help you relax, it also makes you way more susceptible to falling asleep, says Stanford’s Dr. David Sirkin.
If it sees your energy drop and thinks you’re about to doze off (not recommended, even in autonomous vehicles), it can trigger what Matt Benson, the head of Faurecia’s Autonomous Experience Initiative, calls an “energizing routine.” Basically, a vigorous massage and turning up the ventilation. If it sees you’ve already asleep, it can give you a good jab in the back to wake you up. If it thinks you’re a bit stressed out, you get a gentler massage and a warmed up seat (a chair can only do so much).
The idea of a car seat doing more than holding you up isn’t totally new. In 2012, Cadillac linked its lane departure detection system to its seats, so when the driver drifts to the left or right, he gets a buzz to the corresponding butt cheek. In January, Jaguar Land Rover showed off a concept seat that “taps” the driver on the left or right shoulder if a cyclist is in his blind spot. But Stanford and Faurecia see the Active Wellness Seat as a platform for a bunch of possibilities, not a one trick pony saddle.
Those include sending your biometric data to your smart watch, or to emergency responders if you’re in a crash. I can imagine some more fun scenarios here. Super stressed on the way to pick up the kids? Don’t worry, the car will automatically hire you a baby sitter, turn on the rain sound generator, and shuttle you to the spa instead. If it’s annoyed that you’ve fallen asleep, how about playing a recording of those same kids at peak tantrum?
All that’s down the line, but Faurecia’s aiming to have this thing in production by 2018. We don’t expect to have much in the way of self-driving cars by then. But even if you’re still holding the wheel, something that triggers a massage without you needing to ask sounds pretty nice.