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Swiss concept imagines self-driving car as coffee shop, movie theater

Justin Hyde
February 19, 2014

Let's face it: We're all exhausted. We work hard, we play hard, we get up too early and we stay up too late and all we have to show for it are Starbucks Rewards and bad breath. Isn't it time for technology to make life easier by taking on responsibilities for us rather than adding to our burden?

That's the thinking behind the Rinspeed XchangE, a concept car that imagines the self-driving future where driver and passenger alike can recline and watch a movie while the vehicle handles the dull details of moving safely at highway speeds.

Rinspeed, a Swiss tuner of high-end European sports cars, annually builds a far-out concept for the Geneva Motor Show. This year's edition was spurred by founder Frank Rinderknecht asking what would drivers do if self-driving cars actually become a reality. "So far hardly anyone has taken this to its logical conclusion from the perspective of the driver," he says. "After all, traveling in a driverless car will no longer require me to stare at the road, but will let me spend my time in a more meaningful way.“

Hence the XchangE, built on a Tesla Model S and outfitted with the most relaxing innovations this side of the pharmacy counter. The TRW steering wheel sits in a normal position forhands-off driving, but slides across the dash when the car takes control. The roof sports 358 LEDs that send pulses of color through the cabin in a spa of light. And the front seats can swivel 180 degrees (just like the "mobile director" options of '60s Detroit luxury cars) to watch movies or play games on the 32-inch 4K monitor built into the back seat.

Oh, and there's an espresso maker, because clearly this car knows you will go to sleep without it.

Rinspeed makes such concepts for the attention rather than a business case — while the interior tech works, the concept can self-drive only in the imagination — and the XchangE suceeds best as an exercise in futuristic trolling. Luxury cars like the Mercedes S-Class already have a measure of self-driving ability, and major automakers have promised to sell fully self-driving cars to the public by 2020. Do we want our cars to turn into rolling dens where we can tap out spreadsheets and watch "House of Cards," or should driving always require a minimum amount of our attention no matter how advanced technology becomes? Figuring it all out will take a lot of caffeine.