Making zero-emission flying a reality is one of the hardest challenges facing the mobility world. So why not skip the plane altogether – and take a luxurious autonomous electric shuttle instead?
The new Volkswagen Group Gen.Travel is designed to showcase how that could become a reality in the future. It's a Level Five autonomous concept – which means it's a vision of a machine that is entirely self-driving and doesn't have a steering wheel at all.
It’s a design study prototype that the firm says is “a realistic outlook for the mobility of the coming decade”. And yes, the firm does believe that it could replace short-haul flights, by being able to drive you long distances while you sleep.
Now, you won’t be able to buy one any time soon, but the VW Group has said that certain features could eventually reach production vehicles.
Notably the concept, described as an Innovation Experience Vehicle (IEV), has been developed by across the Volkswagen Group, rather than being badged with one of its individual brands such as Volkswagen, Audi, Cupra or Skoda.
The Gen.Travel is fully electric and features a bold design that is intended to sit somewhere between a saloon and an MPV. Unlike some autonomous shuttle concepts it’s got a car-like shape, albeit with a larger and more rounded glass cabin areas.
The machine is effectively split into two parts: the glass cabin, with a waste-level window to maximise the view outside. There are also wing doors for easier access.
While Volkswagen hasn’t given full technical details of the machine – it is, after all, a design study concept – it is fitted with active suspension and electric ABS braking, along with an Artificial Intelligence system that allows for platooning, which means it can run in convoy with a fleet of other Gen.Travel machines.
The interior is described as modular, meaning it can be customised for each journey type. It’s built around the concept of mobility-as-a-service: you wouldn’t buy one to sit on your drive, but hire one from a mobility provider for a specific journey or purpose.
Depending on the configuration chosen there is room for up to four people, in a variety of layouts. For example, a business trip set-up could involve four seats with a large mid-mounted table, complete with dynamic lighting designed to ease travel sickness.
Another option could be an overnight set-up, with would include two seats that could be folded into flat beds. In that mode, the lighting system could be tailored to influence melatonin production, to help passengers wake up more naturally.
Nikolai Ardey, the head of VW Group Innovation, said the machine was designed to show “how our customers will be able to experience mobility in the future”. Ardey added: “With Gen.Travel, we can already experience today what will be possible in the near future with innovative technology. Door-to-door travel at a new level. Emission-free and stress-free.”
The machine will make its public debut at the Chantilly Arts and Elegance event in Paris, France.