Envisioning the car of the future as a living room on wheels
Source: The New York Times
Swiveling seats? Movies projected across the windshield? Social media feeds on the windows? As driverless car technology develops, companies, design institutes and researchers are asking the question: What does the car of the future look like on the inside?
With companies like Google, Uber and others racing ahead to develop fully autonomous vehicles, the era of the driver hunched over the steering wheel may eventually give way to a living room on wheels. But with its long development lead times, designers are already thinking about how such technology will change the interiors of cars.
"When people are in an autonomous vehicle, their expectations will shift," said Hakan Kostepen, executive director for strategy and innovation at Panasonic's automotive systems unit, a major industry supplier. "They will want their personal space to become one of smart mobility, connecting them and relevant information to act upon."
When cars are fully autonomous, how we sit, inform and entertain ourselves will be up for grabs. If steering wheels are no longer needed, how do we best configure seating positions? What should be done with the space now occupied by a dashboard, once a vehicle handles all driving tasks and even decides when it needs to be serviced?
Those are all challenges being taken up by the automotive industry and the schools that supply them with the next generation of designers.
At ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles one of the world's premier automotive design schools 14 students recently worked on creating new concepts for a future vehicle interior whose occupants would no longer be shackled by the need to drive.
Participants were picked from multiple disciplines, including product design, transportation and graphics. To fuel their discussions, specialists in the fields of sound composition, olfactory reaction and even animal behavior were brought in. Visual strategists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory paid a visit as well.
The proposals, which were reviewed by executives from the carmaker BMW, the electronics firm Nvidia and IBM's Watson artificial intelligence division, varied wildly.
In one concept, social media feeds were displayed on the windows and an all-glass roof, creating what is known as an augmented reality projection, providing contextual information on passing landmarks and approaching sights. As the vehicle drove by a restaurant, reviews of the eatery would be displayed and an online reservation form would appear on the building.
Video games would be integrated into the passing environment. Players could fire "weapons" at buildings, and then, via a projection on the glass, see the structure go up in digital flames.
Another group envisioned a vehicle's interior as a constantly changing environment, using variable lighting and temperatures to fit the evolving moods and desires of each occupant, as determined through a sensor analysis of physiological and emotional states.
A third proposal contemplated the use of virtual reality and motion-sensing seats to give occupants the feeling of driving a sports car, even when they were simply riding in a tame autonomous vehicle.
The concepts are not wholly pie in the sky graduates of the ArtCenter have gone on to design vehicles like BMW's i3 electric car and Tesla's Model S but nevertheless are a step beyond what is being developed by vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, who must take cost, brand reputation and consumer acceptance into account.