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September 21, 2015


How Will Car Design Change with Self Driving Cars?

According to Wired, Google plans to kill off humans in the driver’s seat within the next five years. Business Insider says 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020.

With these staggering statistics, we wondered, “Have they actually done it?” It turns out that, yes indeed, they have.

Once an idea found only in futuristic movies, the self-driving car is a reality. In fact, Google has already clocked more than one million miles testing their prototypes. Safety drivers aboard the self-driving vehicles are testing on the streets of Mountain View, California and will start testing in Austin, Texas this month. In addition to Google, Mercedes, BMW and Tesla are also working on self-driving vehicles.

With manufacturers working day and night to bring self-driving cars to the general public, we found ourselves asking the question, “How will car design change with self driving cars?”

As we pondered this question, our minds wandered and became filled with futuristic, ultra-modern looking vehicles. But, could car design take such a drastic change?

Look Backward to Look Forward

Let’s look back at the first cars. They were basically just horseless carriages. They didn’t take on a completely unique look. They closely resembled the horse-drawn carriage. One morphed into the other without taking on a vastly different look.

If we look at history and remember that the horse-drawn carriage turned into the horseless carriage or car without much change in appearance, we can gather that perhaps in the beginning the self-driving car will closely resemble the cars of today, but deeper into the future they will drastically change their look.

After all, the car of today looks nothing like the horseless carriage of days past. So, as the horseless carriage look disappeared, we might gather that so too will the vehicle we know today.

Explosion of New Form

David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, thinks we’ll see a Cambrian explosion (as relatively short evolutionary event) of new vehicle forms that are designed for specific tasks.

He says today’s drivers want bigger, safer cars as well as taller cars so the driver can see further. Self-driving cars, he says will be smaller because since there is no driver, there’s no need for the humans inside to purchase a taller car just to see further ahead. He thinks that cars will be more specialized, and narrower cars are more feasible.

Consider one of Google’s prototypes – it’s a lighter looking, much smaller car than what’s on the road today. Referred to as a “neighborhood” car, it is designed for slow speeds and driving short distances.

The reason for smaller self-driving cars? They cause less damage when they hit something!

Is Cute Appealing?

Looking like an oversized marshmallow, there are certainly some people who will find Google’s self-driving car cute. But, will everyone appreciate its design?

Google designed the cars to look adorable in the hopes that people would find them less frightening and friendlier. They also used a bit of psychology. As humans, we intuitively treat “cute” objects with care and caution. They hope regular drivers will treat their prototype the same way.

Mercedes Dives In

Earlier we mentioned that the look of most self-driving cars will evolve over time. Well, Mercedes decided to skip a few steps.

According to a Mercedes board member, “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”

They took their design cues from the future. The inside is quite appealing as it looks more like a board room or waiting area than a car. It’s equipped with many of the comforts of home and would certainly make long trips delightful.

As for the outside, which some have likened to a bull terrier - you’ll have to decide if it’s appealing or unappealing for yourself.

The Take-Away

Will self-driving cars have unappealing design? As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We bet as the designs of these cars evolve over the next ten years, you’ll find one that suits your lifestyle perfectly.

Lastly, where is Apple in this race? Code-named Project Titan, insiders say indeed they are in the race. We can only imagine how they’ll incorporate their iOS system as well as the iPhone and the iPad into their design, but we’re sure the Apple self-driving car will be as sleek, well-defined and user friendly as their other products.

What do you think of the self-driving car? Have you seen any test models? Would you drive one? Share your comments below!

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