One moment I’m in the driver’s seat of the Renault Symbioz demo car prototype, watching the system deal with the vagaries of cars around me as I cruise down a French highway in the bright sunshine. Only the sound of driving rain suggests something isn’t right.
Moments later, the sky darkens, the cars fade until only trailing red brake light remains, and I’m driving in the heart of a futuristic city. Then, suddenly, I’m airborne, flying with the birds through the clouds, looking down on a vast forest beneath me.
No, I haven’t taken leave of my senses – or a copious amount of drugs. Instead, I’ve been sampling a virtual reality experience installed in Renault’s electric, connected and autonomous Symbioz prototype car to show how people might spend their time in a self-driving car in the future.
While the VR experience is the most outlandish design concept on the Symbioz, the car certainly points to how Renault envisages the near-future of electric and autonomous cars.
Under Renault’s recently announced ‘Drive the Future’ six-year plan, by 2022 the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance will offer eight full electric vehicles, 12 electrified models and 15 cars featuring autonomous systems between level two and level four.
What is the Renault Symbioz demo car?
The Symbioz demo car is markedly different from the Symbioz concept that was shown at the Frankfurt motor show earlier this year, although the two machines, along with the model house they can ‘connect’ to, were developed in parallel.
The Symbioz concept was designed to show what an electric, connected and autonomous Renault machine might look like in the year 2030. By contrast, the demo car is designed to showcase near-future technology that Renault will offer on other models by 2023.
Project manager Mathieu Lips explained: “The purpose of the demo car is not to gather autonomous data but to bring two worlds together. For a prototype car, you take a normal car, add loads of sensors, stuff lots of kit in the boot and go testing. At the same time, you go to motor shows and see visions of what autonomous cars will look like. We wanted to bring those together and merge the ideas of designers with a car capable of autonomous running.”