IDEO Envisions Future of Self-Driving Cars

From easier commuting to a more pleasant daily grind, the design group imagines that big changes are heading — self-driven — our way

Part-study, part-imaginative exercise, a new project from an innovation think-tank offers a vibrant vision of how urban life will be altered by self-driving vehicles. While no one can nail down the specific nature of tomorrow’s roads, the team is confident that “automobility” will “unlock a new wave of efficiency, convenience, and urban growth.”

The Future of Automobility” is a multimedia-rich proposal from international design firm IDEO, and manages to tease out a range of possible future-mobiles — ranging from party minivans to bubble-shaped delivery trucks — and their expected impacts within the next 15 years. “At IDEO, we are thinking about the broader range of impact that automobility will have on our lives and on the infrastructure in which we live,” explains Ricardo Figueiroa, an industrial designer and portfolio director for the company, to Design Boom.

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For the project, the IDEO team constructed three visions to anticipate the intersection of tech and mobility with regard to the futures of autonomous driving, on demand delivery services, and the work space. The resulting projections illustrate “the power of semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles and the role they will play in our lives over time from systemic, technology, and human-centered perspectives.” He continues,

Based on our design thinking approach, we take into account business, technology and disability lenses as we spot patterns that indicate how things may play out in the future. For consumers, they may be presented a choice of owning a vehicle or owning access to one [...] For businesses, timely delivery of goods will further enhance their productivity. We expect that businesses will have more flexibility in how they expand and that automobility will play a role in where they find themselves.

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As Wired explains, personal vehicles in IDEO’s imagined future will anticipate your arrival with a proximity sensor and interpret data (such as texts and calendar entries) from your connected devices in order to plan your destination, your ETA, and your playlist for the journey. En route, your car will “platoon” by joining a synchronized line of cars — each accelerating or slowing in time with the others — heading in the same direction, thereby saving time and fuel.

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In order to indicate to “drivers” (read: passengers) that your car is linked with others, looking to link, or simply communicating actively, your car will also display a variety of color lights, (hopefully) putting worried organic minds at ease. As cars merrily drive themselves, passengers will be free to enjoy themselves with swiveling seats, on-board entertainment, and good, old-fashioned conversation.

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Another proposed concept is Cody, a “21st-century mule [or] anthropomorphized self-driving delivery truck” which would use color and digital displays to signal to other vehicles. With sturdy, carbon composite x-frames, autonomous delivery vehicles like Cody would supplement existing delivery services and companies and use artificial intelligence to manage deliveries with up-to-the-minute arrival estimates. Inside its see-through exterior, a vacuum-powered surface would sort and stabilize Cody’s packages, with a robotic arm placing a customer’s package within reach (after the customer’s been identified via face scanning) upon arrival. “It should become a familiar site, almost like a post office drop box,” IDEO partner Danny Stillion tells Wired.

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In addition to relieving traffic congestion by providing off-peak deliveries and using algorithms to determine the best travel routes, Cody and its autonomous brethren could render annual savings of $101 billion in gas and oil expenditures in the US, IDEO projected. By using the Cody app, patrons could also interact with the vehicle and its management system, perfectly coordinating — or changing — drop off locations and times, increasing efficiency and ease of use.

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IDEO’s third vision for auto-mobility involves not just road-worthiness but also reinventing the concepts of commuting and work space. As WIRED mused, “[instead] of traveling to a stationary office, your self-driving work space will come to you.” The concept vehicles in this study are WorkOnWeels (WOWs), modular mini-offices which can relocate themselves and contain a variety of workstation types in order to suit a customer’s needs. Featuring interactive work surfaces and magnetically locking furniture, the pods can also occupy available open spaces — such as parking lots and beachfront parks — in order to offset urban congestion, all before driving themselves home to recharge and inventory themselves for the night.

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“There are some really challenging human-machine interactions that haven’t been totally thought through yet,” Stillon explains, but the IDEO team seems well on their way to working them out.

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