Audi looks to develop a breathing car seat

Louise Smyth

A team of design students at the Braunschweig University of Art in Germany, under the supervision of Dr Manuel Kretzer, visiting professor ‘Digital Crafting’, cooperated with Audi’s development/innovation unit, led by Mike Herbig, to rethink the notion of the car seat and create an innovative vision of a dynamic structure for the future of autonomous driving.

What if the car of the future would be more than a mere means of transportation? What if it were to become a partner that reacts and responds to our actions, an organism, a friend that lives and breathes?

Building upon Audi’s ‘Klara - The Living One’ study, a transformed A1 that responds to human interaction through moving body panels and subtle sounds, the group aimed at creating a prototypical car seat at the emotional intersection of man and machine.

Emerging design opportunities

The project was developed and realised within three months from April until late June 2017 by a group of students in their second and fourth semester Bachelor studies at the Braunschweig University of Art, as part of their Digital Crafting modules. The Digital Crafting courses focus on an experimental understanding of emerging design opportunities resulting from algorithmic/parametric approaches and the exemplary realisation of 1:1 prototypes using cutting-edge digital fabrication technologies. 

The project started with a two-day ideation phase, led by csi’s Mission Findus.

The small team then quickly split into three distinctive groups, each focusing on one of the following aspects: design & construction; material & comfort; and actuation & response. 

The design part was strongly inspired by forms and systems occurring in nature to develop a structurally sound, lightweight system to house an array of active components. Following numerous studies of parametrically designed shapes the decision was made to focus on 3D printing as the most viable method for the 1:1 realisation of complex forms. Supported by BigRep, a full-scale mock-up was eventually printed from Pro-HT Plastic, a biodegradable material with outstanding strength properties. The process, which took almost 10 days to complete, is to date the longest print the global supplier of large-scale industrial 3D printers has performed.

Motions of breathing

In parallel, the second team developed and produced a set of 38 bespoke, active components that became incorporated into the seat’s surface to dynamically adjust its visual and haptic properties. The components are ought to increase the seat’s ability to respond to changing driving conditions but especially to enhance the user’s identification with the animate object through motions of breathing. 

Finally, a number of customised cushions from a high-performance fabric were added in five separate areas to guarantee the necessary comfort and stability. 

The fully functioning mock-up was exhibited at the University of Arts Braunschweig ‘Open Studios’ show and is now being evaluated for possible further development.

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