Driverless cars could spell the end for domestic flights, says Audi strategist


Self-driving cars could disrupt the airline and hotel industries within 20 years as people sleep in their vehicles on the road, according to a senior strategist at Audi.

Short-haul travel will be transformed and the hassle of getting to and from airports eliminated, said Sven Schuwirth, vice president of brand strategy and digital business at the German car brand.

Business travellers will be able to avoid taking domestic flights to meetings and will sleep and work in their cars en route instead of checking into city-centre hotels, he said.

"In the future you will not need a business hotel or a domestic flight," Schuwirth told Dezeen. "We can disrupt the entire business of domestic flights."

He added: "I think that vision is probably 20 years from now."

Bored drivers can snooze at the wheel in Volvo's Concept 26 self-driving car
Volvo has just unveiled an autonomous vehicle concept that allows drivers to relinquish the controls when bored, allowing drivers to snooze at the wheel

Cars will increasingly resemble mobile apartments, he said, and service stations along highways will evolve to support them, offering drivers facilities for washing, dining and shopping.

Hotels would change in response, Schuwirth added, with drivers using their facilities but returning to their cars to sleep. "Why should a hotel look like a hotel today?" he said.

Car interiors will be able to morph between driving mode and sleeping mode, Schuwirth predicted.

"Today's cars are shaped to be only an emotional piece and to be very comfortable and safe," he said. "So in an autonomous world, if cars do not have accidents any more, the cars do not have have a small amount of glass, a lot of metal, a lot of bumpers and all that stuff. It could be a bit more transparent."

"Once you decide you want to go for an autonomous drive or a piloted drive, then something happens in your car, so your car transforms inside and the interior changes."

Mercedes-Benz unveiled an autonomous pod-like vehicle designed to function as a communal living room on wheels at CES 2015

Supercar brand McLaren is also investigating shape-shifting cars. McLaren's chief designer Robert Melville told Dezeen at the start of this year that cars could soon adjust their geometry and functionality as they switch between urban and out-of-town driving.

Schuwirth added: "There will be a steering wheel in case you decide you want to drive but you can get rid of the steering wheel and maybe the chairs somehow change so it's not the standard sporty chair, but it's more like a sofa or a bed. The entire space inside of the car will definitely look completely different."

Schuwirth spoke to Dezeen at the Castellolí race track in Catalunya, Spain, where Audi held a demonstration of its piloted driving technology, inviting guests to ride in a self-driving RS7 vehicle as it hurtled round the track at speeds of over 200 kilometres per hour.

Audi Piloted Driving is a form of self-driving technology whereby a human driver remains legally in charge of the vehicle even if the car's computer is doing all the work. Dezeen first tested the concept last year, when editor Anna Winston was filmed as she drove around a circuit in one of the vehicles.

Audi's super-fast driverless car is fitted with a mini film studio
Last year, Dezeen editor Anna Winston tried out the Audi Piloted Driving technology when she took a journey in a car that can drive itself at speeds of up to 220 kilometres per hour

"In the piloted driving situation, you are always responsible even if you drive hands-off, but it's you who's responsible if something happens with the car," he said.

This approach gets round existing legislation in many countries where a human must retain ultimate control of a vehicle, ruling out fully autonomous vehicles for the time being.

Piloted driving offers an interim step, allowing drivers to let the car take over in traffic jams, in low-speed urban driving or other low-risk situations.

"We do not believe that the potential of autonomous driving is just about security and comfort," Schuwirth said. "Cars are the last place on the planet, besides maybe your room in your flat, where you can be on your own. Maybe you simply you want to do something different in your car, such as relax, communicate, talk, dream or think."

Earlier this year Germany announced that car brands would soon be able to use sections of the A9 highway between Munich and Berlin for testing autonomous vehicles.

Schuwirth said this would allow the country to catch up with the USA, where some states already allow self-driving vehicles on the roads, giving an advantage to American manufacturers.

Describing a scenario in the not-too-distant future, Schuwirth said: "Your car wakes you up at four o'clock in the morning, picks you up and drives you autonomously the entire way from Munich to Berlin. You can sleep, you can prepare for your meeting, you can call your friends and family, do whatever you want and you enter Berlin in a very relaxed mood."

He added: "The car becomes something different. Not just something to get you from A to B, but something more."

  • Machin

    In a related story, experts predict that within 20 years the roadways in the US will have deteriorated to the point that they will be un-navigable. Bridges will be at a constant risk of collapse and potholes will look like sinkholes. The good news is that big government will have been cut down to size, and taxes will be lower.

    • input-output

      Don’t you think there is a connection between low taxes and crumbling roads?

      • Machin

        Umm, yes. This is a fairly traditional form, the “bad news/good news” joke, with a soupçon of sarcasm. It’s a type of humor. Get it now?

        • IJustWantTruth

          Toll roads will be spectacular I guess.

          • Fake Name

            Yep “privatise” everything. Imagine if GWB successfully privatised SS before the financial collapse.

      • MinisterGoneBlank

        Absolutely not. The government is wasting resources like crazy. Tax revenue is at an all-time high! They will always, always, always want more. They will funnel the money into non-critical pet projects, leave the infrastructure and schools to fail, so that when they want more money, they will say it is for infrastructure and schools.

        If they really solved the problems, they would have a hard time asking for more money. This is politics 101.

      • Nope, there is a connection between idiots in the government spending too much on social crap and not enough on the crap tax payers use.

      • Dave6034

        Texas has low taxes and excellent roads. New England and California have high taxes and terrible roads. So yeah, there’s probably a connection there.

      • MinisterGoneBlank

        If they fix the roads, they will not have anything to say they need money for. Take a note – all the REAL programs will be kept just surviving at a low level. The majority of the tax money will be spent on pet projects and time wasters and kickbacks. As the critical programs get progressively worse, they will cry about needing more tax money, put a band-aid on it, and spend the money elsewhere.

        People NEED to learn this. The government’s tax revenue is at an all time high!! It has never been higher! They have more of our money than ever before. Stop trusting their cries for more money! We could all give 100 per cent of our income to them and we would have substandard services and they would say “we don’t have enough money”. Please, please, please learn from history about what governments do with money.

    • Mike Litorous

      This comment will ultimately be what saves America’s infrastructure. You are a hero. Words are so powerful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • MinisterGoneBlank

      As anyone who has ever worked in government knows, more money is not the answer. There is at least a 300% waste of funds. I worked in many departments of defence and contracting around the globe. Most of the time, most of the people are doing absolutely nothing. Most of the equipment is doing absolutely nothing.

      You could, quite literally, cut the staff in half and still accomplish the same amount if those left actually worked.

      On the same level, we have seen tax revenues skyrocket, and they only want more. You could, quite literally, quadruple the tax revenue, and they would still need more. It would just be more people sitting around being inefficient. Tax revenue is at it’s highest point ever – and all they do is waste.

      Perhaps we would be more willing to pay, if it all didn’t go to pet projects and wasted resources. I personally was part of a project that spent $10 million, for something that completely unnecessary, and was eventually scrapped. $10 million in one year, all for nothing. Just some bureaucrat wanted to make himself look good by moving to a new facility. In my 10 year career – I saw hundreds of millions spent on absolutely nothing!

      • Jezza

        You sure didn’t mind getting paid by my tax money to sit around and do nothing.

        • MinisterGoneBlank

          I did mind – that’s why I left and built my own company. Now, I pay more than most. Combine my tax bill with my employees, and I have created quite a bit of “revenue” for the bottomless pit of government.

    • x

      Corporations don’t care about people, they only care about profit. If you think a libertarian dreamland would have roads fixed you are dreaming, this is totally unrealistic.

      • docsane

        The worst roads I see are usually private ones. People will put up with their stuff falling completely apart rather than pay to fix it properly. At least with public roads, you have a bunch of people who eventually yell loud enough to get the potholes filled.

  • EmilySmart

    I really do not believe that self-driving cars will disrupt the airline and hotel industries. In fact, I do not believe that they are going to be manufactured in next few years.

    It doesn’t matter how good GPS navigation they will put there, it is still piece of steel without a brain. And once they will be on the roads, I hope that they will have a proper GPS navigation software like this one: Because other navigations are nothing comparing to this one.

    • Rae

      Surely the whole system would be a hackers wet dream.

    • Janet Orr

      I disagree. I believe they’re going to be very disruptive and are coming sooner than most people think. Once the trucking industry gets on board, it’s over.

    • Brad

      You’ve obviously not seen anything about autonomous vehicles except this article. They are already on the road. And have been for years. Between Google and Tesla, some states will see these within the next year being more mainstream.

    • docsane

      Tesla vehicles already have a working auto-pilot mode. I believe it’s currently just for highway driving, but it’s here and it works.

      The bigger disruption these will cause is in the transport industry. Trucking and other shipment services employ a huge number of people who will be out of work when their employers decide to replace them with robot trucks that never need to stop to sleep or eat on the road.

      • Floridared

        Having watched trucks veer into other lanes late at night on I-95 many times, no doubt at the hands of sleep-deprived truckers, all I can say is self-driving trucks can’t come soon enough.

  • Janet Orr

    I imagine self-driving vehicles will be a huge disruption for many areas of commerce.

    Imagine a trucking company that doesn’t need drivers. No need to stop to eat, pee, or sleep. There are industries completely based on the needs of drivers and others dependent on them. It’s very much like what the internet has done to retail, but perhaps even more disruptive.

    In the same way Amazon (and others) started out strictly online and eliminated the need for store fronts, new “trucking” companies that start out with this new technology will have the advantage of not having to transition away from drivers. They’ll jump in head first, perhaps losing money at the beginning but being very profitable as things begin to scale.

    This is going to change small communities once again and there’s going to be another group of workers virtually eliminated from the world of commerce.

    Driving trucks is likely to become quaint just as cobblers and horse and buggy drivers.

  • Fake Name

    Won’t need a hotel?? Wow!!! These cars come with a place to shave and shower!!!!

    • Jeff

      Places like this, the Flying J (now currently being used by truckers) will pop up more:

      • Fake Name

        Gross. Road showers.

  • Tj Gienger

    I seriously doubt it will, simply because of time. I either take flights or drive based on how long it takes to get somewhere Vs how quickly I need to be there. I bet most people are like that as well.

  • Cody Pearson

    It’s so funny that car companies actually believe any sort of majority will ever use self-driving cars, what a hilariously terrible business idea. Ninety per cent of all people will never be willing to not drive their own vehicles.

    • docsane

      Why, exactly? Do you think people truly enjoy staring at the highway for hours on end?

  • Toyo

    I think self-driving vehicles will be a disruptive technology. When we will use them, we don’t have to concentrate on only driving. And we can do various things in the car: prepare for job meeting, and eating a meal freely, and wearing makeup. We can use our time efficiently.

    However, there will be some problems with this. The problem is who is responsible when accidents happen. Either the car company or drivers should take responsibility. I think the government should make laws about this first.

  • USG

    Poor infrastructure could put a massive spanner in the works for the technology, but it wouldn’t surprise me if companies like Google and Tesla took the problem on and solved it! Government is wasteful, private companies are greedy. We need a balance.

  • john shuey

    Gosh, I must be an early adopter. I have a vehicle with a bathroom, kitchen, TV, furnace and living room. It’s called a Winnebago.