RECARO sees new requirements due to autonomous driving – An entirely new role for the vehicle seat

Detroit. Autonomous driving is already a reality on many test tracks. What role will the driver’s seat play in the future? What safety requirements does it need to meet? Does it fit with the additional duties as a rest center or work or entertainment area? The seat specialist Recaro Automotive Seating is putting the spotlight on this topic at the NAIAS 2017 in Detroit.

RECARO Sport Seat Platform

Self-driving vehicles can be experienced in a variety of applications. Throughout the world, manufacturers are testing driverless cars on highways and in urban settings. GPS, cameras, radar, and lasers make it possible – and at ever shorter intervals, new, innovative technologies are presented that provide anticipatory driving, perfect evasive maneuvers, or brake the car in a controlled manner.

However, in the vision of autonomous driving, human beings are not dispensable in the long term. It is generally believed that full automation of vehicles is not likely to be feasible until 2030 or later. Until then, according to the assessment, the driver will always intervene if required by the traffic situation.

“In all these scenarios, the driver seat, the central link between man and machine, is too rarely considered in our view,” says Markus Kussmaul, executive director at Adient and responsible for the global performance car seating business of Recaro Automotive Seating. “It plays an even more decisive role with autonomous driving than with a conventional car.” In his view, it makes sense to turn the seat away from the steering wheel while the car is driving itself to allow direct access to a table and get into resting positions.

“In riskier driving situations, the driver seat has to be put back into a correct steering position quickly and reliably,” says Kussmaul, pointing out a crucial technological challenge.

The developers in the passenger car seat area of Recaro Automotive Seating, a product group of Adient, have been working on these challenges for years. The crucial issue: the connectivity of the seat, which must be included in the exchange of data in the vehicle so that the seat can be quickly and automatically adjusted to current requirements. A prerequisite for the realization of this is the electrification of the seat, whose adjustment components must be completely operated by electric motors. Even features such as seat extensions, leg rests, individual back padding, climate control, and massage functions are possible in this way.

The same applies to warning elements such as a vibrating seat that could indicate to the driver that there are changes in the traffic situation. Or to a function that quickly aligns the seat into the direction of travel and brings it into the steering position.

However, the key issue remains safety in vehicles: Will it really be possible to rotate the driver seat or remove the driver from the steering wheel? “There are still no restraint systems that would reliably protect people seated transversely to the direction of a crash against serious injury,” says Kussmaul. “And it is unclear how lawmakers and insurance providers will position themselves in terms of a framework for self-driving cars. We therefore want to discuss with customers and NAIAS visitors their ideas on the subject – and how the open questions relating to passenger car autonomy should be dealt with.”