Like a sequence from a sci-fi movie, the Nissan IDS Concept’s dashboard folds away at the tap of an oversized button, revealing a sleek entertainment system in its place. It’s like something Roger-Moore-Era James Bond might have enjoyed as he engaged in some “romantic” misogyny in the movie’s final scene.
And being Japanese, the folding of the console looks like a Transformer returning to disguise mode.
The IDS is an all-electric self-driving car that hints at one future path of autonomous automobiles: luxury limousines rather than utilitarian transport. In addition to the disappearing steering wheel, the front seats can swivel to face the back, turning it into the modern-day equivalent of a first-class train compartment.
The car presents plenty of technical novelties, like the rear suicide doors that let the owner open up the whole side of the car at once, or an oversized battery for long-distance driving, but it’s the software that makes the IDS interesting.
The ID in IDS stands for Intelligent Driver. Nissan says that the car is good for both human- and robot-control, with a neat twist on the customary failure mode, where the human driver grabs the wheel in case of emergency. With the IDS, the car can wrest control if something happens to the driver and continue the journey safely. I do wonder, though, how a driver would grab the wheel to swerve out of danger if that wheel is folded inside the dash.
The car can also mimic the driving style of its owner, which seems little more than a gimmick. The biggest problems with humans drivers are distraction and aggression, neither of which are suffered by a self-driving car. Mimicking human foibles seems like a step backwards. Then again, this is a concept car, and concept cars always contain plenty of headline-grabbing novelties.
Perhaps the most interesting part is just the fact that car companies are exploring future models for driverless transport. Concept cars almost never come to market, but they’re chock full of features that end up in regular vehicles. Concept cars used to be all about speed and muscle. Now, it seems, Nissan is training us for the next stage of driving history: sitting back and leaving the driving to someone who knows what they’re doing–the car itself.