What Will the Inside of Self-driving Cars Look Like?

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【Summary】According to David Muyres of Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, designers must take the possibility of level 6 autonomy into consideration when designing the inside of cutting-edge vehicles. Level 6 is a condition that requires a fully self-driving vehicle to operate without any passengers.

  Michael Cheng  ·  May 17, 2017 7:05 AM PT
author: Michael Cheng   

While developers are busy honing their autonomous driving platforms and external components, designers are working around the clock to update the internal parts of self-driving vehicles. Also known as the "third space" where consumers will devote their time after home and work, most designs have been stuck in concept phases.

"Autonomy, connected technologies, electrification, and the share movement. Those four pillars are changing expectation and changing the use case of the interior simultaneously," said Derek Jenkins, chief of design for California electric vehicle startup Lucid Motors.

Screens and Mobile Living Rooms

Interior designers of cars will have plenty of space to work with inside driverless cars. Without a steering wheel and pedals (inside an SAE-L5 vehicle), there will be more room available for comfort. Some nascent concepts are fixated on turning cars into mini-living rooms or a remote office. Seats rotate 360 degrees, allowing passengers to turn to each other during conversations or meals. Although useful, this design suggests that individuals will be spending more time inside their cars, which is not the case. According to recent surveys, most people leave their cars parked 90 percent of the time (10 percent usage).

There's no doubt that cars will have giant screens, as introduced by Tesla and the Nissan IDS concept. This is suitable for fully autonomous vehicles, but not for semi-driverless models that still require some form of human intervention during operation. Some designers, including Ralph Gilles from Fiat Chrysler, is holding back on this practice.

Furthermore, Audi is also moving towards a simpler approach to screen installations. Instead of flooding the inside with massive screens, the company places most of gauges and notifications in front of the steering wheel.

Level 6 Autonomy?

According to David Muyres of Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, designers must take the possibility of level 6 autonomy into consideration when designing the inside of the cutting-edge vehicles. Level 6 is a step above SAE-L5 (though not part of the SAE automation chart); a condition that requires a fully self-driving vehicle to operate without any passengers. The new level of autonomous driving is applicable to car and ride-sharing applications.

Level 6 should be taken seriously, as numerous leaders in the automotive industry, including Elon Musk, predicts that autonomous cars will be used as taxis when they are not serving their owners. From an interior design perspective, this means that there should be room for storage and segregation for third-party passengers.

At this level of autonomy, it is also possible that automakers will be rolling out ads. Without needing to stay alert behind the wheel, passengers can view ads safely. Although unpleasant (no one likes ads), this is a reality that many consumers will have to accept, as revenue from advertising could help support startups and automakers in the industry.  

"Vehicles are no longer machines that simply move people between two points, and shoppers demand much more from the interior than they did even a decade ago," explained Michael Harley, executive analyst for industry research firm Kelley Blue Book.

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