A recent patent shows some of the thinking about fully autonomous cars, which might look nothing like cars do now.
Whenever we have shown self-driving cars or autonomous vehicles as imagined 50 or 60 years ago, people are always playing board games or cards, because they didn't have iPads or phones to play with then. But as we know, millennials are driving a board game revival. That's why it is so exciting to see this very recent patent application from Mohammed Omar Faruque for Ford Global Technologies.
According to the application, it is for a fully autonomous car, so there is no need for a drivers seat or a traditional windshield, because "fully autonomous vehicle has a vehicle controller that simultaneously controls each of accelerating, braking, and steering."
The vehicle provides a versatile passenger compartment that may be used, e.g., when the vehicle is autonomously operated. The table provides an area for occupants to collaboratively work or play. The passenger compartment provides a spacious interior space for occupants to use. Occupants may increase free space by moving and/or stowing the seats as discussed further below. In some configurations, the passenger compartment may open to the external environment, providing a variety of surroundings for occupants.
Fun? Wow! The seats are on a track so that it can rotate around the table so that everyone can get out the door on the side. On the big top octagonal version, individual segments can be opened and closed. And to add to the excitement, a giant airbag is stored in the center of the table.
Ford is on to something here. In an article on Gizmodo complaining about a lame GM design for an AV, Jason Torchinsky noted that there is no reason for an AV to look like a conventional car with people looking forward.
There's just no reason to keep these rigid interior design rules when you're not required (or able) to drive! Why is everyone sitting in two forward-facing rows? There should at least be an option to swivel the front seats around, or allow the seats to all face inwardly. There should be fold-out tables, the means to recline seats for sleeping, and so on.
Although in some ways, I like the old image better, with the glass bubble roof that lets you see what is going on. But Faruque's setup looks a lot more comfortable.
In this one, you could get a drink. I think that perhaps the Ford in our future needs a bit more work. Maybe they should hire Steven M. Johnson to consult on how to make a comfy flexible interior.