Zumikon, Switzerland – If anybody in the automotive industry can be accused of thinking outside the box, it’s Frank Rinderknecht.
Founded in 1979 as a tuning house to make Porsches go faster, his Rinspeed design studio has become one of the world’s leading exponents of future tech, embracing every new trend from alternative power and sustainable materials to autonomous driving and ride sharing.
But with his 23rd concept car Rinderknecht has really gone out on a limb – almost literally, in this case. Because, in what is usually wasted space between the bottom of the steeply raked windshield and the top of the dashboard, the two-seater Oasis self-driving city car has a small garden in a removable planter. Rinderknecht envisages growing sweet-smelling flowers, veggies for the dinner table or even bonsai trees – and if you buy a spare planter, you could even swop them around from week to week, depending on what’s in season!
The Oasis is actually a runner – and an incredibly manoeuvrable one, with a ‘platter’ type electric motor in each from wheel, torque vectoring and wide-angle front suspension and steering mechanism specially made for this concept by ZF, that enables it to turn around in just a few centimetres more than its own length.
But what’s inside is even more outrageous; it looks more like a postmodern ‘white on white’ living space than a car, with two aluminium-framed armchairs upholstered with a mix of genuine leather and a specially developed elastic woollen yarn, a sideboard, a big-screen TV and real wooden floors.
One of the biggest problems with any self-driving car is that when it’s in autonomous mode the steering wheel gets in the way of activities such as working, eating, gaming or following social media – so the Oasis’ special ZF steering wheel folds flat when not in use to become a work surface or touchscreen keyboard, complete with Skype camera.
The entire windscreen is a giant holographic head-up display and, instead of a dashboard, there’s a slightly curved widescreen display stretching right across the cabin; when the Oasis is in manual mode it shows all the usual driving instrumentation as well as a rear-view image at either end. When the car is driving itself the screen becomes a display for the Harman interactive social media platform, controlled via voice or gesture.
The system monitors Twitter without being told, spots trending tweets that indicate possible holdups ahead and adapts its routing automatically. It also notifies you when a number of your Facebook friends have liked a new restaurant or show, and offer to make you a booking.
A special Blackberry app lets you control your home from the car or, if you want to watch TV, the 24-speaker Harman Kardon sound system follows you as you move back and recline your seat-back, so that you’re always in the centre of the sound pattern. Finally the boot is actually a ‘delivery box’ that can be either heated or cooled, and the rear window can, at the press of a button, become a display that shows you what’s in it, without you having to open the hatch.
Sharing the love
Rinderknecht envisages the Oasis being parked only when it needs to recharge itself; after it drops you off at the airports it heads off to pick up another couple who are looking for a ride, and when it has dropped them off in town, it goes on Twitter to let your friends know it’s available whenever they need a lift, so they can use Whatsapp or other social media apps to ask it to come and fetch them.
But because it’s also has a diary function, it’ll be back at the airport to pick you up when yopu come back from your trip.
Another app lets you choose friends and people who share rides with you by interest or profession – you could wind up sharing your ride to the theatre with a fellow opera buff you’ve never met before.
Rinderknecht sees the Oasis, and its ‘delivery box’ boot as a platform for shared ownership in a commercial scenario – the same car could be a shopping trolley for online purchases in the morning, a mobile counter for a parcel service in the afternoon and a pizza delivery vehicle in the evening, with each of the co-owners using a digital access system.
The Oasis will be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for a few days early in January before moving on to the Detroit motor show and, at the beginning of March, the Geneva motor show in Rinderknecht’s own back yard.