Rolls-Royce announced on Tuesday that it’s bringing a new vehicle to North America, and the car’s most notable feature is an artificial intelligence called Eleanor that signals Rolls-Royce’s belief that A.I. is the future of luxury vehicles.
The car is called the Vision Next 100, which is also known as the 103EX. Eleanor itself is named after Eleanor Thornton, the model for the “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament for the ultra-expensive cars, and is likened in company publicity materials as the car’s soul.
Rolls-Royce says Eleanor can “advise her owners on itineraries, schedules, and options before they leave their residence” while it attempts to “ease any anticipated impediments” they might face. The future of luxury, it turns out, is quite focused on helping people be more productive on their daily commute.
Eleanor is also capable of driving the 103EX. Rolls-Royce says the A.I. can bring the car around when its owners are ready to depart and, once the drive starts, it “helpfully but discreetly makes suggestions and recommendations” to help them prepare for their days. Eleanor also “safely delivers her passengers to their destination, having already predicted the situation and surroundings that await them,” the company claims.
Rolls-Royce is making such a big deal about Eleanor that one of the first looks people got at the 103EX was a 360-degree video narrated by the A.I. in this video released in June:
The full extent of Eleanor’s capabilities is unknown. For now, it seems like the A.I. is a combination of two trends: Autonomous features like Tesla’s autopilot, which has driven 222 million miles in less than a year, and software that’s meant to bond with people while they drive around.
Eleanor is also the likely byproduct of the increasing importance of software to vehicles. Rolls-Royce took that concept and ran with it. “[Eleanor’s] vital spark lives within the very fabric of your vehicle: driving you, guiding you, discovering the world with you,” the company explains. “Eleanor intuitively complements your personality, becoming a true companion.”
Which is not to say that the buttoned-up English carmaker has forgotten what’s made it famous in the first place: ridiculously plush luxury. Per the official description, the car features a sofa nicer than you probably have in your home:
The centrepiece of the cabin is the beautiful sofa. The best seat in the house, it is an exquisite, futuristic interpretation of modern furniture design. Clothed in the most opulent fabrics, it gives the impression of floating within the cocoon of the cabin thanks to the artful use of lighting and modern materials.
Here’s a look at that cocoon:
So as you step into your spotless 103EX with your companion, imagine Eleanor greeting you:
Rolls-Royce does not publish any pricing info about its vehicles, which are individually commissioned and undergo extensive customization, but the entry-level vehicles start at $250,000 and the prices rise from there. The 103EX launch in America is more for Rolls-Royce to show a proof-of-concept to its customers than a statement of the vehicle’s availability; even Rolls-Royce’s ultra-rich audience can’t buy it yet.
The future of transportation is going to involve autonomous vehicles that can hold conversations with their owners. Rolls-Royce has merely taken that idea and applied the bombast that makes its luxury vehicles so appealing. Eleanor was part of the company’s vehicles for more than a hundred years as a hood ornament; this A.I. is likely to be a part of them for another century.