Will Autonomous Driving Lead to Increased Opportunities for Self-Care with Heated Massages, AI Counseling, and In-Car Entertainment?

A mockup of LG's vision for the customer experience in future autonomous vehicles

LG has unveiled a futuristic vision for autonomous vehicles (AVs), one that emphasizes the potential for passengers to enjoy “me time” while on the move. After a taxing day at work, you opt to stay in the car for a moment, taking a pause before heading inside to tackle the responsibilities of preparing dinner or attending to household chores.

You lean back in your seat, enjoying the serene sounds of nature as it provides you with a relaxing heated massage. Alternatively, you may choose to engage in a counseling session with the onboard artificial intelligence (AI) to unwind and clear your mind after a demanding day.

When compared to your current daily commute, which involves sitting in stop-and-start traffic, this concept may appear to be lightyears away from reality. However, it represents just one of the visions for autonomous driving put forward by the South Korean electronics giant, LG.

The current focus of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is primarily on enabling the car to move and navigate independently, with the passenger onboard experience, at least for now, taking a backseat as a secondary consideration.

In contrast, LG is directing its attention toward the sensory aspects of the future autonomous vehicle experience, emphasizing that the focus should pivot towards the opportunities for enhancing the overall driving experience that AVs can offer.

William Cho, the CEO of LG, during his presentation this week at IAA Mobility in Munich, stated:

“At this point, there have been numerous conversations about the future of mobility, including the physical transformation of vehicles and the evolving role of the car. Nevertheless, despite these extensive discussions, the precise nature of these changes remains unclear”.

IAA Mobility is renowned as one of the world’s largest trade fairs in this field.

“As we are well aware, the mobility industry is undergoing a profound transformation that challenges our conventional views of automobiles. Our extensive customer research has guided us to approach mobility with a customer-centric perspective, emphasizing the enhancement of in-car space and the overall quality of the time spent on the road,” explained the CEO.

Their concept revolves around reimagining the car not just as a mode of transportation, but as a “personalized digital sanctuary” for its occupants.

Autonomous vehicles: A pipe dream?

A Cruise AV, General Motor's autonomous electric Bolt EV, is displayed in Detroit, the US

Thus far, substantial investments have been poured into advancing the technology for autonomous vehicles, which are driven and controlled by AI-driven computer systems. However, all prototypes developed thus far still necessitate human interventions.

In the United States, autonomous vehicles (AVs) adhere to the standards established by SAE International, formerly referred to as the Society of Automotive Engineers. These standards categorize AVs into levels, ranging from level 0, which signifies no automation, to level 5, signifying complete vehicle autonomy in all circumstances and locations.

For instance, Tesla’s driver assistance system known as Autopilot falls under level 2 automation. Tesla offers a basic version of Autopilot across all its models, providing features like lane centring and assisted steering. In addition, they offer more advanced systems such as Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capacity, which include functionalities for parking assistance, stopping, and summoning the vehicle.

During the summer, Mercedes-Benz revealed that its Drive Pilot system had achieved level 3 approval, marking the highest SAE rating for a commercial vehicle thus far. Level 3 automation means that the vehicle can manage most driving situations, but a driver’s intervention may still be required to provide inputs and prevent potentially risky situations.

In the previous month, Cruise, a subsidiary of American automaker General Motors, obtained a license in California, alongside Alphabet-owned company Waymo, allowing them to expand their current fleet of autonomous taxis in San Francisco and offer round-the-clock services.

In contrast to commercial vehicles, these taxis operate at level 4 autonomy, which means they possess near-complete self-driving capabilities. They are designed to navigate within a predefined area, referred to as “geofencing,” using a combination of cameras, sensors, machine learning algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI). This technology allows them to determine their location, gather real-time data on pedestrians and traffic, and predict how each element is likely to interact with the vehicle.

In the event of a challenging situation, a remote human operator has the capability to intervene and provide guidance or halt the vehicle. Challenges indeed arise, as evidenced by Cruise’s recent experiences. Just a mere 10 days after obtaining its most recent license, Cruise was instructed to reduce its fleet size due to a string of incidents, including an accident involving a collision with a fire engine.

According to statistics provided by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), self-driving Tesla vehicles have been implicated in 736 accidents in the United States since 2019, leading to 17 confirmed fatalities.

Even with the introduction of services such as Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot, as well as substantial investments in research, development, and testing by the automotive industry, it appears that a level 5 autonomous vehicle won’t be available in the near future. Nonetheless, Cho is of the opinion that the transition to autonomous driving will be further expedited by the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Cho explained:

“The current trend in mobility is moving towards software-defined vehicles (SDVs), essentially turning automobiles into highly advanced electronic devices that offer novel experiences.”

‘Personalised digital cave’

A combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR)

LG’s vision for these future in-car experiences is currently in the conceptual stage. Nevertheless, the company has plans to develop and manufacture technologies for upcoming autonomous vehicles, centered around three core themes referred to as “Alpha-able”: Transformable, Explorable, and Relaxable.

In the first theme, LG envisions cars transforming into “personalized digital caves,” flexible spaces that can readily adjust to accommodate various purposes and scenarios. These spaces could serve as intimate restaurants for a romantic dinner, mobile offices where private business deals can be conducted, or even provide the comfort to recline and enjoy a cinematic experience on the go.

In the second theme, LG intends to integrate augmented reality (AR) and advanced AI to enhance interactions within the vehicle. This could involve voice assistants suggesting content based on the estimated duration of your journey, or interactive windshields crafted from OLED displays that provide information about your location and the ongoing journey.

Of course, the driving experience should be soothing, offering sensory stimuli like movies, massages, meditative music, and more through the car’s infotainment system. While level 5 autonomous vehicles (AVs) have yet to become a reality, LG is actively developing the required technology to fulfill its three-pronged objectives. This includes the establishment of a new factory in Hungary, in collaboration with Magna International, dedicated to manufacturing e-powertrains, the essential power source for electric vehicles (EVs).

“We firmly believe that the future of mobility should prioritize delivering an elevated level of customer experience. LG is wholeheartedly dedicated to this crucial mission through innovative mobility solutions,” Cho expressed.

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