Looking into the future of automotive seats
Luxury automakers love to doll up the rear seat with big cushions, plenty of leg room, and lots of recline angle to mimic first class airline seats. Although they can make the seat itself comfortable, hide the outside world behind acoustic glass and active noise cancellation, and smooth out the ride with active suspension systems, they can’t beat physics. Bose, however, might have found a loophole. It’s called the Ride Concept.
The thing about those automotive barcaloungers is they’re still bolted rigidly to the car, for obvious reasons. As such, whatever bumps make it past the suspension end up in your wealthy backside. Every time the car turns, the inertia generated goes right into your body as you lean away from the turn. The solution is as simple as noise cancelling headphones: produce an equal and opposite action to counter the bad ones. In other words, make the seat move the opposite way the car around it is, and the passenger stays right where he or she is.
If the idea sounds at all familiar, you’re either or in the trucking industry or know someone who is. Years ago, Bose rolled out its Ride system for big rigs. In the base of the seat, an air spring supports your weight while an electromagnetic ram counters every up or down motion the truck makes underneath you. Thus, rather than bouncing up and down constantly thanks to that stiff big rig suspension, you sit still while everything moves up and down around you (a normal spring helps cushion fore-aft shocks, too). Research has shown this has major health benefits for full- or even part-time drivers, which saves money for owners. Because the system captures regenerative energy from all the bouncing, it only draws 50 watts from the vehicle to run a 3,500-watt system.
Bose has recently introduced its second-generation system, which is smaller and 30 percent lighter. Being more compact, it can fit in smaller cabs, and Bose is looking to install it in everything from heavy machinery to farm tractors to mining trucks and more. If it’ll fit, they ought to seriously consider installing it in full-size pickups and selling it to ranchers, rangers, and others who spend a lot of time off-road.
You can already imagine such a seat might be nice in the back of a Rolls-Royce, but cars such as that already have active suspensions designed to isolate the cabin as much as possible from the road. The gains from this seat would be incremental, and it would take a lot to make it fit in the first place. This is where the Ride Concept comes in.
The Ride Concept seat takes the whole concept to the next dimension, namely lateral. In addition to cancelling most of the up-down motions of the vehicle, it also cancels body roll and side-to-side motions. In addition to reducing cornering gs, it greatly eliminates head toss as the vehicle rocks side to side.
To demonstrate, Bose put us in the back of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter passenger van outfitted with several Ride Concept seats and drove us over a number of obstacles designed to simulate bumps, potholes, and anything else you might drive over and cause you to bounce up and down or get thrown side to side. With the system off and the stiff commercial van suspension loaded down with people and equipment, we bounced around like we were driving too fast down an old dirt road. With the system on, vertical motions were fully eliminated (so much as we could perceive) and side-to-side motions were reduced to tiny disturbances that caused our heads to rock slightly to the side. The lateral damping wasn’t as good as the vertical damping, but hey, that’s the prototype part.
As impressive as the improvement in ride quality is, it’s not going to be for everybody. It’s also not going to replace active suspensions. Your upper legs and torso are virtually stationary, but your feet and anything your hands are touching are going to move with the vehicle, which is odd at first. Add in the lateral damping capabilities, and on the biggest bumps and twists you can actually see the whole vehicle tilting side to side around you while only your feet register any movement. It’s the exact opposite of those carnival rides where the seats move with a video screen to simulate changes in direction. For some people, that argument between their eyes and their bodies is going to be disconcerting, and indeed, not every trucker loves the Bose Ride.
Combine the Ride Concept technology with existing active suspension technology, and you might just have an ultra-luxury winner. Bose’s demonstration was purposefully dramatic, but put the same seat in a car that already rides like a magic carpet, and the seat has much less work to do to keep you isolated because the suspension is already mostly handling the bumps. In this case, there’d be so little difference between what the car is doing and the seat is doing that it would likely go unnoticed except over the absolute worst bumps.
Bose officials were coy about any such plans but admitted some automakers have shown interest in the technology. Given its size, weight, power draw, and the amount of vertical clearance it needs to operate, the most logical place to look for a consumer application is in a luxury SUV. It’s not hard to imagine something such as the forthcoming Rolls-Royce Cullinan offering a seat like this as an option for the billionaire who wants the absolute best ride in the world.