Self-driving cars will be a consumer reality in the next 10 to 15 years. We now have fully autonomous cars that can drive theirselves everyday and soon we will start to see progress in the commercialization of those technologies.
Although there’s some doubt about the feasibility of developing a car that can drive itself from one point to another very remote point without human intervention, there’s no doubt that fully autonomous cars for urban and sub-urban use would be a reality in the next decade.
As this reality comes closer and closer, a new and unprecedented battleground would emerge. Cars would become a new interaction space / platform. Technology and Automotive companies would need to fight for this space to stay relevant. Engine specs and exterior design would become almost irrelevant, and car makers will put serious efforts in developing their interior experiences.
If nothing of what I’m saying makes sense, let me describe you what I believe would be the future of commuting in self-driving cars in 10 years and 20 years.
In 10 years: 1st Self-Driving Cars.
The first fully autonomous cars would very likely provide a similar experience to the one that Tesla Autopilot provides nowadays.
Although, drivers won’t need to engage actively on the driving, they would need to passively engage, by leaving their hands on the steering wheel and/or by giving some kind of feedback to the car that indicates they can regain the control of the car at any moment.
Commutes would feel very similar, but drivers would be able to re-assign their attention to new in-car activities like internet browsing. Drivers would experience a lower cognitive-load from the driving activities which would make commutes more enjoyable and relaxing.
In 20 years: The evolution of Self-Driving Cars.
The nature and popularity behind self-driving cars would very likely help to relax some of the policies that involve autonomous vehicles. At this point we would start seeing cars that don’t require any kind of active or passive engagement.
This evolution would push automobile makers to re-understand and re-design car’s interiors. Interiors would gain unprecedented importance and makers would put most of their R&D money in creating differentiated interior experiences.
Passive drivers would become active passengers that would engage in activities that have nothing to do with driving. Entertainment, Working and Communications would be an integral part of future in-car experiences.
The car from the movie “I, Robot”, is an interesting concept of what the self-driving car experience could be.
A New Platform
If there’s any truth to the rumor that Apple is actively seeking opportunities to develop self-driving cars, that truth relies on the fact that cars would very likely become the next relevant platform for content and software makers.
Fully autonomous cars with renovated interior concepts would fundamentally change the way we think about car traveling and commuting. Here is a list of activities, concepts and behaviors that I predict would dramatically change with the rise of autonomous vehicles:
- * Fully autonomous vehicles would give passengers the ability of engaging in other relaxing or productive activities. The owners of these cars would accept longer commutes and this would create a shift in the dynamics of sub-urban development.
- * New kind of displays would be added to the interior of the cars. Space would be optimized so it can adapt to different situations. Cars that double as an office space would be hugely popular.
- * Cars would likely have an OS fragmentation like the one we are currently experiencing with Android and iOS. Auto makers would focus in creating advanced interior experiences , but they would rely on software vendors to provide an Operating System and a Software Distribution Platform that would allow car users to do things like using productivity tools or watching live TV. However, companies like Google or Apple, would likely create their own hardware (Cars) which would create new market dynamics in the automotive industry.
- * Gaming would be a major player in the new scene of in-car experiences. Windshields would also work as Dynamic Displays and as Augmented Reality surfaces.
- * Car Segments would stay as the market reference for competition in the Self-Driving Car Industry. Families would still buy big cars with features for every member of the family. Young people would favor small cars with interesting in-car experiences. Mature professional would still buy high-end cars with distinct luxury features and in-car experiences.
- * Prices and features would impact the final in-car experiences dramatically. Very cheap self-driving cars would feel like flying economy. High-end luxury self-driving cars would provide an experience similar to flying First Class.
- * Self-Driving Cars would be slightly more expensive that current cars. However Self-Driving cars would be able to join ride-hailing networks and earn money for their owners. Although, companies like Uber would very likely have their own fleet, they would still need to rely on third-owned cars to keep their business scalable and profitable.
- * Some professions would experience fundamental changes. Delivery services would become fully automated and police forces would have to re-define their patrolling practices.
Augmented Reality and Self-Driving Cars
One of the most interesting aspects about Self-Driving Cars is that they would definitely change the way we experience in-car activities. Since the concept of a driver would disappear we would start to see new interior arrangements that would favor other activities.
In certain way, self-driving cars would provide a similar experience to the one you get when you fly on a plane or ride a high speed train. However, there are three major differences that would ultimately make self-driving car experiences completely different from any previously existent transportation experience:
- Privacy: Self-Driving Cars spaces won’t be shared with strangers. This would allow passengers to use their space more freely without the inhibitions that come from interacting with other passengers.
- Ownership: Self-Driving Cars would be owned by their passengers and therefore they would be customized to fit specific passenger needs.
- Open Spaces: Unlike other transportations in which individual space is reduced and access to windows is minimal, self-driving cars would very likely be open spaces with panoramic sunroofs and wide crystal-clear windshields.
These three major differences would create unique experiences that would be powered and enhanced by technologies like Augmented Reality. Car makers would use these technologies to create new market segments and increase differentiation between brands and product lines.
Here are some examples of Augmented Reality applications for in-car experiences that would likely be part of the AR+Self-Driving Car Future:
- * Cars would run software that augments geographical data over the landscape ahead of them.
Mock of Geographical Augmentation on a Car Windshield. Created by Juan J. Ramirez.
- * Cars would run software that augments interactive games over the road ahead of them. An example would be an adventure runner game augmented over the actual physical moving road.
Mock of an Adventure Runner Game (Subway Surfers) Augmentation on a Car Windshield. Created by Juan J. Ramirez.
- * Cars interior would change and become extra cozy spaces that would be inviting, enjoyable and shareable. Doors and roofs would feature some sort of augmented display that would give passenger new ways to interact with their cars.
Mercedes Benz Interior Concept. CES 2016.
- * Windshields not only would serve as High Definition HUDs and augmented reality displays but they also would be interactionable surfaces that would respond to different kind of inputs.
Windshield from the movie “Mission Impossible”.
The Design Challenge
Although this is just a brief futurism exercise that explores the opportunities that would arise with the popularization of self-driving cars, the reality is that the future would be more complex than what we can imagine.
Self-driving cars would re-define the automotive and technology industries, but they would also change the way many other industries operate.
Design would play a fundamental role in shaping the future of self-driving car experiences, but it would also play a significant role in other areas affected by the evolution of these technologies. Some of those areas like the implementation of new mobility patterns, the planning of sub-urban development and the creation of new policies, would generate challenges as complex as the ones that would arise within the self-driving car industry.
As we keep moving toward that future, I invite designers and other technology professionals to start thinking about the future of self-driving cars and reflect how your practice would affect or change that future.