It makes four-zone climate control seem crude.
There are some aspects of interior car design that haven't fundamentally changed over the last half a century or more. The steering wheel is pretty much where you expect it to be, as is the gear shift lever to your right. Another example of this? Air vents. They may be rounded or square or bedazzled with ambient lighting, but they've either heated or cooled the cabin in pretty much exactly the same fashion for decades.
However, Hyundai has filed a very interesting patent for vehicle interior trim that improves the effectiveness of air conditioning systems and which looks like it would make for a far cleaner cabin design than we're used to seeing. Effectively, any piece of trim around the cabin could contain a plurality of cells that form openings and can discharge air or even light and sound.
The motivation behind the Korean carmaker's new technology is that cars are morphing into living spaces, not just a means of transportation. With autonomous driving technologies improving each day, drivers or passengers won't necessarily be seated in the same position. We've already seen patents for swiveling seats and movable steering wheels. In these instances, a small physical vent with a limited range of motion can't adequately meet the needs of occupants, hence Hyundai's solution.
"The plurality of cells define openings facing towards the interior space of the vehicle during an opening operation of the plurality of cells," describes the patent. "The openings are arranged so that light, sound, or air is discharged through the openings to the interior space of the vehicle."
As the pictures demonstrate, this advanced cell system need not be limited to being positioned on the dashboard, as with conventional ventilation outlets. They can also be placed along the headliner, further improving the flexibility of the car's ventilation system. Actuators are to be used which will tilt the cells, thereby performing an opening/closing function as required.
While even new electric Korean cars like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 are far from achieving the level of interior flexibility that would require such a ventilation system, Hyundai seems to be preparing for a future where this is the case. Volvo is another automaker working on cabins with flexible seating arrangements and more than one driver's seat position.
Motoring in the future looks very different indeed.