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.