The age of self-driving autonomous cars is nearly upon us. As a car guy, this of course terrifies me. But as a designer, the challenges and opportunities this new frontier opens up are exciting. Like most technological advances, I think the first generation or two won't look much different than what they replace. It will be a feature you can turn on in your car. Tired to idling in Los Angeles or New York traffic? Flip on the self-driving mode and let the car get you home while you do more important things—like watch Youtube videos.
Maybe steering wheels will start to get smaller as they are used less and become a psychological affordance, a mental "just in case." Maybe seats will have less performance influence. Your bucket seats will start to morph back into the bench seats of old. Speed and fuel gauges might give way to movie screens.
A few generations in and things might really start to change. Of course these self-driving cars will easily integrate into the sharing economy, allowing people to rent out their cars by the hour or the mile. Or Uber will eliminate the need to own a car all together. But what happens when the car evolves from a means of transport to a place itself? Commuting to work? Take a Starbucks owned and operated car where you can get a latte and lounge at a table while working on your laptop along the way. A long drive to see the in-laws? Call for a movie car where you can watch a Michael Bay blockbuster in full surround sound on that two hour ride. Need to run some errands and grab lunch? Sounds like a burrito car. Need to work off the day's stress on the way home? Pick from a workout car or a zen meditation car.
Once upon a time Starbucks called itself the "third place." Not home, not work, that other place you wanted to go in-between. The self-driving car could very well evolve into that third place, but a place on-the-go. The in-between place becomes something that can also get you where you need to go. I imagine an entire crop of small businesses existing solely on cars. The payment in exchange for the goods and services these businesses provide would pay for the car journey itself.
Ultimately, I think there is room for the coexistence of the entire experience spectrum, from fully automated transport, to completely manual analog cars designed just for enjoyment. Personally, I want the best of both worlds, a self-driving experience to get me to and from work, and a vintage sports car to putz around in on the weekend and have a blast on the backroads. Hopefully, the traditional automotive driving experience won't be relegated to purely immersive VR experiences. Every trend has its counter trend.
What are your thoughts on the potential for autonomous transport? Leave a comment below.
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Wisely written article!
Ok, clever idea. I don't drink coffee, how about a rolling home depot vehicle or a kinkos? or a Blick with markers and paint so I can get my projects done at midnight when I really need to work.
Great article Michael, that stimulates some great thought... and to me exactly what the autonomous vehicle discussion has been distinctly missing, Vision. Automakers are so keenly on the next product cycle that we rarely see far reaching ideas that reimagine what the experience of transportation can be. I agree with you that there will be a variety of vehicle and driving types to serve a variety of consumer desires. If autonomous vehicles evolve with their own lanes or roadways we could see a drastic reduction in vehicle weight. Which could change everything. Truly modern "horseless buggy" type solutions that could be sent to the Starbucks drive though before picking you up for your ride to work.
Thanks for the feedback Aaron! It was a fun piece to write. It will be an interesting time for the industry that is for sure!
These musings need to be juxtaposed along side prior iterations to achieve similar end user needs. The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile has a long history of mobile branding in a vehicle form factor. The Ice cream truck has been around dispensing cool treats for decades. The current generation of mobile utilitarian food trucks offers everything from burritos to Korean BBQ.
The musings suggest taking branded food and beverage consumption and enjoying them privately at speed to and from our destination. I am afraid these do not jibe with the future of a more collectively global and interconnected world focused on sustainability and resource efficiency. The Google Bus comes closest to what the sketches are trying to suggest and that is more likely to become autonomous and serve lattes before a smaller sized private transport. The markets that are targeted for future economic growth already have way too many vehicles clogging the roads and byways.
If the future of autonomous vehicle travel is as private and smooth a ride as is being depicted online and in popular media (or in these sketches), well then, we all will be saving on dry cleaning bills aimed at removing food and beverage stains from our clothes. Reality, g-forces and gravity that we are still a part of point to a whole new generation of spill proof container designs that accompany our new mobile breakfast tables. This will open up a new segment for ID to develop and serve. Cha Ching...
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I like the designs, except the last one. I don't see the point in an attendant desk inside the car. Since it's a new experience, that carry the autonomous word, I think these services to be can take away the attendant and the cashier's desk and replace all that with a simple and efficient self service coffee machine. Or, if it is really necessary, a robot barista. But I guess the experience of a personal moving coffeehouse will be better without any attendant.
America, is probably one of the western country that has the smallest understanding of the importance of the Cultural aspect. It's becoming more and more easy to get a cup of " Coffee " at any time everywhere, there is now Starbucks almost every block. Food chains and franchises, are everywhere, and that of course apply to GYM and Yoga chains in major US cities. So in the future, when those " Fast Entertainment/food chains ", become a delivery service, this will only accentuate the disappearance of local businesses, markets, and cultural structures in cities. In Europe for instance, what bring " life " the the city, is simple everyday experiences like walking down the street to get bread at a local bakery, and on the way there, eventually stopping by the flower shop, running into a street artist, and ending up taking a break at a Cafe after the job is done etc... I know it's probably just a concept for fun, but I hope that for the future, instead of putting our design efforts on helping those big chains invade our cities, we focus more on how to enhance more meaningful, simple everyday human experiences, highlighting more of the cultural diversity that a city has to offer.
Pascal, I hear your points. I actually only rarely drink Starbucks and only when there is no local option. I frequent local craft coffee makers, bars, restaurants, boutiques, etc.... but I also acknowledge I am not the norm and design for a defined user.... every time I go to Europe I see more Starbucks. I assume not just American tourists in there :-)