NVIDIA’s GTC show is next week and I think you’ll see some of the thinking that will define the cars of the future there. One of the things that should be explored is how autonomous cars will evolve because they will dramatically change the priorities that currently define car design.
If you look at the history of automotive design, it starts with what looks like horse buggies without horses and they were called horseless carriages. The design concept was based on the need to sit high both because roads sucked, bridges were infrequent, and horses had their own unique emission problem that drivers, for some strange reason, didn’t want in their face. But as time went on cars got lower, wheels smaller. First passengers, and then drivers moved under cover and advances then proceeded to optimize them for safety and targeted performance and evolution that continues today. But if a car drives itself and increasingly the human component is something to overcome what will its design evolve into?
Why Do You Need Windows?
I’ve argued in the past that once high resolution panels get cheap enough it might make sense to eliminate windows in homes. You could then have any view streamed to those displays you wanted giving every room a fantastic view, you’d immediately both make the home cheaper to build and safer from both burglary and weather driven high wind events and you could place these homes in places where currently the lack of a view would make them undesirable. Imagine living in a home with all room views of Niagara Falls, the view from a New York penthouse, or the top of the Himalayas, or even mars, the moon, or a fictional rendered landscape. But the issue is that’s a lot of glass and the expense for both the displays and streaming the related videos is prohibitive.
But in a self-driving car you have high resolution cameras that could feed the smaller and fewer internal displays. Not only could you get better views from the outside in all light conditions and weather but could change these views out. On a trip, it could look like you are driving over or under the ocean, in real or fictional countries (like the World of Warcraft) and you could even integrate video games into the experience so your kids could be hunting dinosaurs while the car takes them to school. While the car is driving, you could even convert the cars controllers into game controllers so you may be stuck in traffic but you’d feel like you were driving at supersonic speeds in a world scale race.
By losing the windows you could make the car both safer in an accident and far harder to break into. The car would become cheaper to build and more entertaining to ride in and status would be achieved by the level and nature of the technology in the car making it attractive to own one rather than use Uber.
You’d likely still use something like Corning Gorilla Glass for the displays inside to keep weight down and prevent accidental breakage and on the camera lens covers outside so they would better survive road damage but you trade off the windows for secure integrated doors which could have explosive hinges in the case of an accident.
Car design would likely shift from trying to provide adequate or optimal window views to doing the same thing with the sensors and then optimizing for safety, increasing the potential for saved lives.
Full 4-Wheel Steering
We have limited 4-wheel steering on some high-end performance cars today but people get confused if you try to provide the same level of steering you have at the front of the car in the rear. But a car driving AI can handle complex controls like this far more readily. The result is not only would the car be far more capable of fitting into a wider variety of parking opportunities but it would be more agile and able to avoid accidents much more capably. For instance, if a vehicle in front dropped a large dangerous obstacle rather than turning to avoid it, trading the more robust front bumper of the car for the side during the maneuver and, for a short time, increasing the risk, it could jog the car laterally moving the entire car out of the path of the obstacle near instantly.
On high-end planes, they have seats that can fully recline and turn into beds. One of the things you can do in an autonomous car is sleep. This means that having seats that fully recline into beds would be an important feature for people who either commute long distances or like to take long trips. This could repurpose the name “sleeper cars” and update it for the near-term future. You could even have situations where people forego houses in favor of a car that goes to the equivalent of a car trailer park during off work hours after stopping at the gym. In effect, rather than having an in-home gym, home theater, kitchen, garage or even guest rooms, you’d have an experience where the car just took you to shared facilities with the necessary amenities allowing you an experience like what a billionaire now has in a mansion but at a tiny fraction of the cost. You could even have a situation where the cars grouped around common conference room and cafeteria facilities so that your mobile bedroom was also a mobile office.
It does suggest a future group of vehicles that could aggregate at night and separate during the day as the parents go to work and the kids head to school. Though, I expect, that kind of a leap is decades away.
Incorporated into the design could be common elements which would allow the vehicles to be placed on transports with you still inside for long trips. You could tour Europe in your own car(s) and if you are worried about your spouse, recall these are self-driving so the vehicle you aren’t using could automatically follow you or go to central storage when not in use.
Wrapping Up: The VR View Into The Automotive Future
One of the things that makes NVIIDA’s GTC interesting is the breadth of technology. In this case covering not only autonomous driving but VR and AI. These technologies are merging, with AI becoming the engine underneath the next autonomous car and VR likely being closely related to initially prototyping and emulating it, and eventually being central to the entertainment inside and potential remote driving and diagnostic capability outside. Certainly, next week for those that go to this show people will see a powerful representation of the present for this technology, but, with a little imagination, I’ll bet many will begin to come to grips with the amazing future. It should be a fascinating show!