France's Faurecia recasts interiors for self-driving cars

HOLLAND, Mich. (Reuters) - With self-driving cars expected on the road within three to five years, French supplier Faurecia SA is focusing on the cabin of future autonomous cars.

French car parts supplier Faurecia's logo is seen during the company's investor day in Paris, France, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Faurecia, partly owned by French automaker Peugeot Citroen, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive seats and interiors. It envisions next-generation cockpits for “new behaviors, when vehicles are no longer designed solely for driving,” said Matt Benson, head of ventures and advanced innovation at the company’s xWorks operation in a former furniture factory in this small city in western Michigan.

“One of our challenges is to create more flexibility in the cockpit of the future - make it more intuitive and predictive,” he said.

Faurecia is working on an “active wellness” seat, which employs biometric sensors and predictive analytics to measure and respond to occupant stress, drowsiness and other symptoms, according to Rob Huber, vice president of innovation and ventures.

The company also is experimenting with ways to blend voice recognition and gesture controls with advanced lighting, audio and control systems.

Starting around 2020, use of self-driving vehicles in on-demand ride-sharing fleets will likely mean increased daily use of vehicles, so Faurecia is also looking at such prosaic issues as “cleanability” of the cabin, Benson said.

Located 4,000 miles from the company’s Paris headquarters, xWorks is part of Faurecia’s global network of advanced research facilities and tech scouting outposts.

The unit looks at future mobility trends beyond 2020, and interviews consumers on how self-driving vehicles could change the look, feel and function of interiors.

“Some of the things that people said they expect to do in fully autonomous and shared vehicles are crazy,” said Benson. Freed from the task of driving, people say they would play the guitar, do yoga, cardio exercise or knit.

That’s in addition to shaving, putting on makeup or even watching a video, which some drivers do anyway.

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Dan Grebler