NIO, an electric vehicle start-up financed by Chinese investors, has announced plans to launch its first autonomous car in the United States by 2020.
The Shanghai-based company, which has operations in the US and Europe, recently confirmed the news at the SXSW conference in Austin.
It also unveiled a concept car called the NIO Eve. Although the company didn’t reveal many details about the model, it explained that it has been designed for family use and constantly learns about its occupants.
A smarter car
Described as “a robot on wheels”, the car sports a sleek, wagon-style design. Inside, there are reclining seats that can turn into beds, and the front seats can be turned around to pace back passengers.
There’s also a built-in artificial intelligence system, Nomi. Boasting an intuitive human interface, it can provide the driver and passengers with verbal and visual connections both inside and outside the car.
While this technology is concept-based at the moment, the company is optimistic that it’ll be a huge success. It’ll even utilize the car’s glass panels to provide augmented vision for passengers and entertainment purposes.
In terms of specifications, the company wants to give the car a 600-mile driving range, along with a charging speed of 200 miles per 10 minutes.
The start-up didn’t announce a timeline for manufacturing, but it told Forbes that the car would be manufactured under the Level 4 standard. This means that it’ll be fully autonomous and capable of driving under most conditions.
These plans are somewhat ambitious, though. The company hasn’t produced a commercial vehicle, and it has yet to manufacture the EP9 supercar it unveiled late last year. This model can get up to 60mph in 2.7 seconds, making it the fastest electric car in existence.
User experience comes first
Padmasree Warrior, who leads the company’s operations in the US, said his company wants to produce an autonomous car that puts user experience and performance first.
“We’re excited about having autonomous electric cars for US consumers in 2020. Today we also unveiled our vision for the car of the future, focused on delivering unmatched user experience through leading edge, software defined hardware,” he said.
“In 2015, commuters in the US spent over 8 billion hours in their cars commuting. NIO’s autonomous electric cars will make your journey safe, productive and enjoyable.
“Our cars will be your companion and will know your needs, they will be a welcoming living space that moves you. We look forward to producing the first of the next generation of cars for the US consumer. We know you will be delighted by NIO.”
Interest in electric cars growing
There’s certainly a lot of interest in autonomous and electric cars, both positive and negative. A recent survey completed by Northern Connections found that most people in the UK have reservations about these cars but can see them flourishing in the future.
Scott Jones, general manager of the industrial connectors and components distributor, said: “Our findings show that while significant strides are being made to bring both driverless and electric cars to the wider market, many people are fearful about the unknown.
“Can a driverless car decide whether to swerve to avoid a collision if it meant hitting another car? Who will be held responsible if a driverless car causes a crash? How long will it take to recharge an electric battery? Could it run out halfway through a journey?
“These are all valid questions for which people will want answers before they are able to place their trust in the new technologies. Once these fears are allayed, however, it seems the new vehicles will be much more widely embraced.”