Friday, March 20, 2020

Thoughts On The Future of Autonomous Vehicles: The Shape of Things To Come

A Note From Jake: Seventeen years ago, back in 2003 I wrote a seminal 5 Part series titled "Thoughts of the Future of Handheld Computing', which was one of my first blog posts. In that article I explored the future of handheld computing where I basically predicted the iPhone, iPad, iCloud, Apple CarPlay, and the advent of Tesla large car center screen, as well as Google Glass. Just for the record, I have never updated that article in any way after I wrote it. I mention that article as this new article reminds me very much of it.

Thoughts On The Future of Autonomous Vehicles

The Shape of Things To Come

This article is about what I believe vehicle form-factors will look like in the future. What will new cars look like 5-10 years from now? I believe steering wheels will become obsolete within the next decade. ZOOX, which is a bay area company created the design reference model seen below back in 2004, and I think it is extremely accurate. I believe we will see a two seat version of a form factor like this with forward facing seats, as well as a four seater as pictured below.

The ZOOX vehicle seats four people comfortably with front seats that are rear facing and rear seats that are front facing. This is basically a family car/sedan replacement.

Notice the hardcore understructure of the ZOOX car looks like it is extremely protective and safe.

The videos below shows off many details of this amazing concept.

So what does ZOOX have to do with Tesla? I am a huge fan of Tesla, and I want to make a powerful point I think almost everybody is missing. All the current auto manufactures are dazed and confused by Tesla and don't know what to do, so at best they are taking half-measures. In my opinion I think Tesla checkmated the entire international auto industry around the time of the launch of the Tesla CyberTruck.

Why? In order for any company to effectively compete with Tesla, they would first have to copy all the vast majority of Tesla's innovative architecture, including the Skateboard chassis.

Let's take Mercedes as an example. Let's say Mercedes woke up tomorrow and decided they were going to bet the ranch on competing with Tesla, the first step they would have to take would be to overhaul all their models and and make them all electric. At the same time they would need to develop a Supercharger network, not to mention figure out autonomy. 

The great challenge is it would take them years to catch up to where Tesla is today in 2020, and by the time they catch up, Tesla will be way into manufacturing their next generation of vehicle which will look NOTHING like current Tesla models, including the CyberTruck. So what will next generation Tesla models look like? I think they will look like the ZOOX models pictured and like the vehicles below.

GM Cruise Origin

I believe GM's Cruise Origin form-factor which is pictured below has the potential to replace buses and taxi cabs.

Living Room On Wheels

When Tesla introduced the CyberTruck they showed off this rendering of a modified CyberTruck that featured a built-in camper system. This is a fascinating concept, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

I think we will see autonomous vehicles in the future that will essentially be a living room on wheels. There is a famous company named Becker Automotive Design that specializes in making vehicles for high-end executives that are based upon Mercedes-Benz Sprinter as seen below.

The ultra-luxurious interior of this Becker Benz is designed for an executive and features comfortable desk seating for four.

Becker Automotive Design customizes many different models of Mercedes as well as other makes. The photo below shows the largest Mercedes Sprinter model.

The larger model is shown below with a bathroom in the back of the vehicle. Now imagine a similar vehicle in the future, but one that is 100% electric, autonomous, with wireless charging and covered in solar panels. Since the vehicle would be fully autonomous you could either eliminate or repurpose the front of the vehicle where the front facing driver seats are located. 

Becker Automotive Design also offers a Cadillac Escalade model where they elongate the rear door by 10 inches in length as seen below.

Becker also extends the roof to offer more headroom.

The image below shows what the Cadillac Escalade model looks like from the rear seat.

In the image below we see the same interior as above, but notice the image above shows the front seats have lowered and folded up out of the way when not in use. Of course, there is a drivers seat area not shown in these photos, but imagine if it were not there. This would make the vehicle a lot shorter and eliminate the cost and hassle of having to pay a driver. 

The vehicle above is targeted at a very wealth individual that can afford to pay a driver probably somewhere between $50k and $100K per year. Owning and operating a vehicle like this would be inequitable as the driver would likely be forced to stay in the front seat at all times, which would likely mean it would only be used for short distances with a maximum of say around 100 miles in each direction. In other words, if you wanted to go from San Francisco to Sacramento for a meeting it would work, but if you wanted to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles and would not. 

Also, a vehicle like this would not work well for a family since somebody would have to drive it, so if you had a family of four, it would not make sense to have parents driving while the kids hang out in the back. If a vehicle like this was fully autonomous and could charge itself wirelessly, it would be a complete game-changer.

The video below features a different Becker Cadillac model with just two seats, which also makes a lot of sense.

I believe in the year 2030—if not sooner—luxury vehicles will be autonomous and look like the images above. Cars like this will have built-in massagers and many luxury features. Best of all, they will drive you wherever you want to go and automatically charge themselves. 

Speaking of Wireless Charging of vehicles below is a video that shows wireless charging technology that will soon become omnipresent. This technology essentially allows the vehicle to charge itself without any human intervention. When implemented with an autonomous vehicle it would allow you to go to sleep in San Francisco while the vehicle is driving to San Diego. The car would automatically stop at a charging station in-between, charge itself, and continue on to its final designation. This would mean you could go to sleep in San Francisco, and wake up the next morning in San Diego with a fully charged vehicle.

Below is another Mercedes Limosine based upon the Mercedes V-Class. Imagine what this would look like if the front seats and engine compartment were removed?

Basically we would end up with an exterior form-factor very similar to the Cruise Origin seen in the photo below. 

Even though GM only showed of the Cruise Origin with a sparse interior there is no reason such a vehicle could not have a very luxurious and comfortable cabin like the ones showcased above.

In other words, instead of looking like the interior pictured above it could look like the image below:

Autonomous Mobile Homes

I also think another form factor that will be ultra-successful with the advent of autonomy is electric RVs that would essentially combine a Tesla Semi with a fancy expensive RV, but it would be autonomous and would be covered with Solar panels all over the outside. 

Basically it would look like the ultra-wide luxury RVs below but it would be 100% electric and would have no steering wheel, and likely two front facing seat in the front. By eliminating the driving cab in the front it would allow you to have a smaller form factor for an RV, or a much larger RV. You could also have a huge TV screen that replaces the windshield which could be used in conjunction with front facing camera's to show you what is going on outside the car—just like a windshield. In other words, simulate a windshield, but that same huge screen could also be a computer screen and TV for watching video content.

Fancy RV's are so nice today I could see how an electric, fully autonomous version of this would replace or supplant homes and condos in the future. In other words, I can see how in the future peoples permanent residence would be a truly mobile home.

The other cool thing is that if you owned one you could easily have it shipped across the ocean. So for instance, if you typically live in the United States, you could have your electric RV shipped to Europe and it would drive you all over Europe on extended vacations. This way you could spend a week in Paris, then continue on to London, and Switzerland and sleep in your own comfortable bed every night.

Also, if the entire exterior of the RV was covered in solar panels it could capture a ton of energy to help transport the vehicle and ensure it could never run out of energy. In other words, if you traveled to the middle of nowhere and could not find a super-charger (Think Breaking Bad), you could let it sit outside in the sun for several days and it would gain enough energy to be able to drive back to civilization where it could get fully charged. 

It is really amazing how far high-end self-sustaining RV models have come!!! Below is a video that shows how luxurious the inside of this Luxury RV can be when the sides are extended. For all intents and purposes, this is like having small home on wheels!

Below is the floor plan for the 2020 Anthem Entegra Luxury RV which offers all the creature comforts of a luxury home, and we see how the RV can expend in width when parked to significantly extend the size of usable space.

Another consideration is that in the future a luxury RV could feature Elon Musk's Space X Starlink Satellite service which would offer super-fast internet anywhere in the world. Below is another video that shows a super-high-end RV. Now imagine if this was all electric, with full autonomy, and wireless charging with wrapped in solar panels!?!!

One More Thing

On April 11, 2020, several weeks after I originally published this story, I came across this CyberTruck Camper concept from The Tesladorian which is fascinating. I could see how the camper on this being covered in Solar panels.


As a designer and design fanatic I am really excited to see vehicles evolve. I believe as the international fleet moves to becoming electric and autonomous it will serve to free up a tremendous amount of time that humans waste driving, while making the roads much safer.

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