DRAFT (See also: Autospaces 2025)

Overview

We are interested in investigating situations, capabilities, and design opportunities of ten-­plus years into the future when new technologies will redefine the driving experience. We are not interested in uncritical re-presentations of “cars of the future” – sci-fi utopias (or dystopias) where everything is fully automated and experiences are equal and seamless. The investigation looked deeper than this to develop tangible design ideas and relevant implications. We contemplated nascent technologies, determined their character, and hypothesized how their uptake could give rise to new kinds of social situations and interactions between people (drivers, passengers, pedestrians, ...) and vehicles, devices, buildings, and so on. We talked with experts, used design sketches and intuition to extrapolate from known starting points, and envisioned new kinds of journeys with instances of novelty, delight, drama, or tension – New Car Experiences.

Conversations with Experts

At regular intervals we have sought out conversations with experts, invited industry leaders to give presentations, and participated in interviews, workshops, symposia, and conferences. Through these conversations, we not only capitalized on the value of interdisciplinary research, but also looked to develop the questions and curiosities that can emerge in an atmosphere of healthy irreverence. The more people that we spoke to, the more conflicted that our understanding became. How do devices function in vehicles? What about the Internet of Things, and ecosystems of devices in cars? 

(Additional credits for Art Center students and project participants can be found at the bottom of the page).

Kati Rubinyi, Civic Projects; Maggie Hendrie, Interaction Design Department, Art Center College of Design; Alex Zafiroglu, Intel Corporation; Victoria Fang, Intel Corporation; Edward Fok, Federal Highway Administration; Jordan McCullers, AirSage; Geoff Wardle, Graduate Transportation Design Department, Art Center College of Design; Students of the Graduate Transportation Design Department, Art Center College of Design; Jeremy Klop, Fehr & Peers; Brian Kemler, Google; Ziba Design Consultancy; Chip Alexander, Bosch; Andrew Maxwell-Parish, Hybrid Lab, California College of the Arts; Jason Kelly Johnson, Future Cities Lab, California College of the Arts; Jaguar San Jose, San Jose British Motors; Tesla Motors Brea Mall; Telematics West Coast 2014; Autonomous Vehicles and the Built Environment Symposium/Workshop; AirSage; Fehr & Peers; Intel Corporation; Jaguar Land Rover

Inspiration File

As a group of designers, we are always gathering our own inspiration material: Whether it be from automotive design, cinema, video games, fine art, literature, graphic design, fashion design, or other disciplines and mediums. We tried to use eclectic examples to inspire a series of design questions. As we spoke with experts, we became aware of more and more examples of projects in similar spaces and available pieces of technology. We tried to think more tangentially as a strategy for fresher innovation and broader implications. These efforts quickly amassed lots of material. We regularly met as a group to discuss and relate references and examples. Through this discussion, the categorization and organization of the file emerged. Speculative work always involves a struggle in trying to identify the space where you’re qualified to contribute as a designer: Work that's too close to the marketplace is beyond our expertise, but work that's too far away suffers from a lack of constraint. This file is not only a mass of reference material, but a means of forcing ourselves to look beyond just what experts were telling us. The Inspiration File aims to form connections from disparate sources and provides an important foundation for the project. We hope that it can be of use to other people doing similar work.

Road Trips

Given the nature of the project, we wanted to use the journey as a research space. We bought various inexpensive bits of in-car tech and conducted open-ended experience experiments to make us understand the qualities of different kinds of mediation between people, devices, and vehicles in different contexts.

How does it feel to have a virtual visual presence in the car with you? how does the image degradation - e.g. a noisy analog fade versus a sharp digital cut - change the experience of driving in and out of signal range? one vehicle tracking/trailing another using gps bug. how does the tracking experience change with different kinds of location data? e.g. google maps with live ‘blip’ or text messages giving street address every minute tech: MasTrack real time vehicle tracker, iphone/android one vehicle broadcasting to another using fm radio transmitter. does the receiving vehicle have to find the signal by tuning in the radio? a shared soundtrack? voice instructions? tour guide? tech: fm radio transmitter -- microphone? -- adapter? visually identify a passing airplane using plane finder app. identify a plane which will fly over a location that you can drive to before it gets there. what’s it like to augment stuff you see, moving in your environment? something geocaching-y (in remote locations, in busy locations) tech: plane finder app, iphone/android logging activity via proximity triggers. creating a ‘diary’ of car use. tech: bluetooth beacon, iphone, custom code

Nomenclature and Signifiers

Cars are increasingly becoming complex systems of processors, sensors, interfaces, and mechanical platforms. While car companies have traditionally tried to render these edges invisible, hierarchies across these systems are being disrupted by new technologies.

Names and icons speak to deeper relationships in how we relate to technologies around us and the roles that we expect them to play in our lives. Badges, labels, buttons, and switches offer tangible points of interaction and suggest sites of emotional response. They resolve a small portion of a whole that we don’t yet find familiar.

How will exterior badging reflect vehicle driving styles? What seals of approval or professional certifications are in place for ethics of data transfer.

Different spaces that are generated in and around our vehicles. How are they spoken about, how are they branded? Infotainment elevated, generally the audio systems manufacturer Technology integration as a selling point Engine and exterior styling are less important than the processor, operating system, and the mediated environment that is created inside of the vehicle. The augmented reality that is created inside. The car as a mediator of experience. What technologies are surfaced? What if the name of something becomes an interface?


Rethinking "Terrain"

The more we tried to draw, map, think about the internet of things, data, network, the more we thought about the increasingly transparent nature of things around us. Vehicle traverse terrain, vehicle is designed for certain use, certain landscape. Now, that landscape has an increasingly complex immaterial nature.

The word “terrain” in a discussion about vehicles will likely evoke an image of a rugged landscape which can be traversed – for necessity or recreation – if you have the right kind of vehicle. We want to expand the definition of “terrain”.

An increasingly significant aspect of the (built) environment is digital communications infrastructure and the myriad of different kinds of data streams that flow between devices – devices which are mobile, in vehicles, carried by people; devices which are fixed, as part of buildings, as part of civic infrastructure. Although these data streams are usually invisible, and transient, they are real, and have (increasingly) tangible effect.

How do we reconsider “terrain” as a mix of tangible and intangible – a fusion of physical and information space?
How can we use simulation and visualization to diagram this multidimensional terrain to reveal diversity and meaningful complexity as a resource for designers and technologists? How do we represent different (and changing) categories of car user, data, vehicles? What are the new network topologies of a moving infrastructure? What new relations will this diagramming activity suggest?

How can we use these diagrams to speculate about new car-related experiences resulting from the nexus of connected vehicles, people, devices, the (built) environment, flows of data and media? What does it mean to traverse this hybrid terrain. What are some of the most novel future (~10 years) design opportunities for new kinds of in- vehicle interfaces, e.g. for infotainment, for autonomous driving control); and for the built environment, e.g. for new hybrid building typologies which have physical and digital presence and influence.

New Experience Narratives

Students were asked to create short vignettes exploring situations, capabilities, and design opportunities of driving experiences ten-plus years into the future. The studio focused on interactions between people, vehicles, devices, buildings, and cities, in order to envision new kinds of journeys with instances of novelty, delight, drama, or tension.

Elaine Cheung & Shan Shen

Elaine Cheung & Shan Shen

Elaine and Shen's project visualizes the possibilities for new social interactions that will be available when attention is no longer needed for driving the vehicle. Technology could radically augment the social engagements that we have with passengers in vehicles around us on the road. The car interior becomes a space for authoring different kinds of content and new types of media, as well as being shared with people who are not physically present. How would passengers enter and leave a vehicle through dynamic telepresence? How would the “inhabitants” change throughout the ride, and how would that impact our journeys?

Fereshteh Oftadeh & Jordan Honnette

Fereshteh Oftadeh & Jordan Honnette

Faith and Jordan's work explores the car ignition key as a cultural totem that confers not only access to the vehicle, but an important cultural right of passage. When we no longer need physical keys as a means of access, they could come to confer other meanings and associations. Driving with one key might serve as an opt-in for data sharing, or provide more control of privacy and data sharing.

Xin Guo

Xin Guo

Giselle's project looks at customization and specialization when autonomous vehicles become ubiquitous. If all cars are eventually being driven by computers and at similar speeds, what would it mean to overtake, pass, or cut-off another vehicle, and what are the costs when these behaviors are specialized or commodified? Would each vehicle have a budget of custom options, like “power-ups” in a video game? Simple gestures, like passing and changing lanes could themselves becomes a style. In a world of ubiquity, the vehicle surface could also provide a meaningful opportunity for display. And groups of vehicles traveling together could be treated as one continuous media space.

Seung Il Choi

Seung Il Choi

Rather than the "one size fits all," Gordon's work explores a diversification of vehicle types; imagining a household that owns or shares multiple vehicles for many different purposes. Some of these vehicles might not carry passengers, but could allow a remote presence for any number of contexts. The work embraces a diversity of uses and contexts for remotely operated or autonomous vehicles. It imagines a continuum of remote presence objects, single occupant vehicles, and multi-occupant vehicles for an array of uses, which could offer many different ways to engage with the world. The project pushes up against the idea of shared economies, but embraces the idea of multifaceted uses and needs.

Jung Won Hong

Jung Won Hong

Jay's work started with a provocation: Will drivers have the freedom to crash? The project looks at the car as a biometric device. The more that a vehicle can sense and detect about our different physical and emotional states, the more it can make decisions, either to counteract or to amplify those experiences. The work explores the friction of users who are trying to operate against systems that are always inferring information. What kinds of tricks and hacks will emerge? The project suggests ways to act against and fool biometric surveillance systems when the vehicle is constantly circumventing those work-arounds.

Nan Wang

Nan Wang

Joi's project speculates about the suites of avatars which could become a point of interface between the driver and a complex array of vehicle systems as cars become more complex computational devices. A "Cartner" could act as interpreter between the vehicle user and the multitude of operating systems, sensors, and processors working simultaneously during a trip. Sometimes the character could simply allow access to systems and information within and around the car, and sometimes it could embody the car itself. Would this character be confined to the vehicle only? Or would it jump from device to device? The car, the systems, and the driving software could be manufactured by different companies, and this agent suggests another level of service on top of those mechanical and digital systems.

Qing Yi Li

Qing Yi Li

Qing's work explores screens, surfaces, and personalization. What spacial qualities could be borrowed from domestic interiors when cars function more as living rooms or offices on wheels? Imaging objects or devices operating across surfaces could activate certain customization and personalization possibilities. Thresholds between media could become blurred, as images and video leak into an environment through objects and devices. The project blurs the edge between things and images of things, and suggests a world of simultaneous advanced technology and comforting familiarity of objects and artifacts.

Zhihan Ying

Zhihan Ying

Zhihan's project looks at augmented reality, the overlaying of information, and how this vision of the future could impact in-car journeys. The work suggests a blurring of physical boundaries and thresholds in virtual space, as buildings extend beyond their actual structures into the digitally overlaid streetscape. When the vehicle is driving itself, the user could have experiences that are completely removed from the in-car context. The project simultaneously questions the boundaries between interiors and exteriors in the world around us, in the context of the car, and in digital spaces that could overlay them both.

Nicholas Meehan & Selwa Sweidan

Nicholas Meehan & Selwa Sweidan

Nick and Selwa's project develops a methodology for examining interactions within vehicles. One can imagine the roadway as a coffee shop, or other social space, where people are coming and going. The work explores the complexity of social groups and movements – something apparently subtle, but with complex rules of engagement – and imagines them happening on the road. By removing visual references to the vehicle, the work allows a closer look at social interactions as the primary activity of road use. The project raises questions about the kinds of interfaces that will be necessary in a space that is constantly changing.

Kristen Schlott & Xiangjun Shi

Kristen Schlott & Xiangjun Shi

Kristen and Shixie's work looks at in-car experiences beyond simply getting from A to B. Simplicity and seamlessness are typical aspirations for many technologies, but one could argue that there is a psychological comfort in seeing and understanding how the vehicle is making sense of the world and making decisions. The interfaces explore setting preferences as a type of journey. When we assume that there are sensors embedded everywhere, the vehicle could align our journeys with different events. The car may take a detour in order to provide a better vista of the sunset. The vehicle may not always choose the fastest, most efficient drive. The work suggests vehicle systems as curators or choreographers of the journey, and how cars could communicated their capacity to edit the journeys that we experience.

Design Questions

Manual to autonomous transitions at journey destinations
Where does this transition take place–what constitutes destination? A hotel check-­in area? Retail parking lot? Residential driveway? An airport departures gate? How is this transition branded as a commercial experience (when arriving at a resort)? How does this transition mimic or evoke existing commercial experiences (“Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”) Or how is this transition customized as a personal experience (when arriving at home)? In what ways is this transition functional or utilitarian such as charging the vehicle or – considering cars without emissions – moving through a buildings? In what ways is this transition luxurious or exclusive? What negotiations or compromises might need to be considered as part of this transition? Are vehicle operators allowed to retain some vehicle control inside a building as long as they maintain a certain speed or trajectory? How are the terms of these negotiations and compromises conveyed and confirmed?

Vehicles communicating with ‘outside’ people such as pedestrians, cyclists, other drivers
Pedestrians, cyclists, and traffic control personnel rely on a range of impromptu or informal gestures (eye contact, hand waves, head nods, etc.) to negotiate traffic. How does a vehicle gesture or otherwise indicate its intentions? How do vehicles acknowledge, accept, or reject the intentions of other people, vehicles, and officials? Are vehicle gestures a branded behavior, unique to each vehicle model, or are vehicle gestures a uniform behavior dictated by traffic safety regulations? How do people, other vehicles, and surroundings adjust to the sensor fields and thresholds of vehicles? Do traffic control personnel wear special markings and sensor triggers? Do pedestrians and cyclists use augmented reality displays to visualize the trajectories and sensor fields of vehicles around them?

The vehicle as a remote extension of its user
What tasks, activities, and anomalies might become common when a vehicle’s sensors are remotely accessible? Does the vehicle patrol the user’s neighborhood during the night? Does the vehicle become a flaneur when not in use during the daytime, recording interesting sights and sounds around the city for its user to browse during the commute home? How is might the vehicle serve as an outpost, a probe, or a proxy? How would people – neighbors, friends, enemies – feel about that? What default behaviors does the vehicle revert to when the user abruptly abandons the vehicle during a traffic jam? Does the vehicle return home, continue on to the destination, or find a location to await instructions? What channels are typical between user and vehicle? Is there a constant video feed available or does the vehicle check­in occasionally with news and updates? What actions does the vehicle take as a biometric sensor of its user? Does it “know” its user based on biometrics and uniquely respond to that person? Does the vehicle increase and decrease speed as a function of the user’s heart rate or in­time with the user’s soundtrack?

Vehicle as entity, acquiring memories, conveying different personalities
What activities, destinations, and events does the vehicle remember? Which does it forget? Does the vehicle “memory” begin in the factory? Does it celebrate a birthday? When would vehicle history logs need to be accessed? Who would have access to them? What details are recorded in the vehicle’s history? Can the user “clear” the history? Do vehicles offer “incognito” or “private” driving modes? How does a vehicle convey “smartness”? How does it make users feel safe? How transparent is the decision making process in which the vehicle engages? Is this a conversation that the vehicle engages in with the user, or a display on the dashboard? How does a vehicle ask for help in negotiating complicated situations? Does the vehicle set off alarms and flashing lights, or politely interject in the user’s conversation? How is vehicle interface and artificial intelligence a branded experience? Are some brands known for having very blunt, serious a.i. systems? Are some a.i. systems better suited for children and families?

Collective experiences, groups across multiple vehicles
How do self-driving vehicles impact cultural notions of the “commons”? Do freeways become more like piazzas, public squares, or promenades? Are roadways places to see and be seen by others? How does the built environment, signage, and architectural vernacular respond when people no longer have to focus on driving? Do billboards become personalized and contextualized? How can you make mischief on the roadway? How do you ‘tickle’ or ‘poke’ the car in front of you? How do networks of vehicles coalesce and what are the outcomes? What does a pop­-up farmer’s market on the highway look like and how does it emerge? How do users express identity, personalization, and customization, if no longer through driving style? How does the vehicle govern or manage the ecology of devices within it? Does the vehicle decide to take control when a passenger hands the driver a tablet device? Does the vehicle “chat” with devices in the car to update the destination or change the driving experience?

Branding and customization
What vehicle features and specialities rise to the level of exterior branding, badging, and nameplating? What are the luxury packages and custom options that users can elect to add­-on? How are vehicles tailored, personalized, and imprinted to the user? What role does the dealership or factory play in these scenarios? How does social networking and digital display impact exterior branding? Does the vehicle seek­out Facebook likes? Does it share the photos that it takes to its own Instagram account? Does a vehicle accumulate digital bumper stickers that reflect the variety and exotic spectrum of destinations its visited? How could smart badging change with context and surroundings, but still reflect the identity and messaging of the brand and user? Are exterior displays more statistical/quantitative (how many vehicles the user has generously allowed to merge during traffic jams) or expressive/qualitative (Facebook likes that the vehicle has garnered)? How do users choose and customize driving experiences? Can you drag­and­drop a police chase from your favorite Hollywood blockbuster onto your morning commute? Can you generate a mash­up to make your cross­country trip feel like a ticker­tape parade? Is there a Pandora app to mix, customize, and share driving experiences? How does the dealership experience incorporate and reflect new vehicle technologies? Do users take test drives at home using Oculus goggles and their gaming consoles? What is the future of simulation in dealerships, assembly lines, and elsewhere? Can users try demo versions of vehicle software packages on their own vehicle – is a semi­truck’s operating system compatible with a sedan?

Vehicle as cultural space for media production and consumption
What media does a vehicle produce and share when it is covered in an array of high definition video cameras, still cameras, microphones, and other sensors? Do vehicles tap into image and video feeds generated by buildings, infrastructure, and other vehicles in the vicinity? Do vehicles collect and share media purely for entertainment, or are there functional purposes to recording as well? Does the vehicle at the front of a traffic jam share its video feed with vehicles stuck behind it? Do vehicles automatically generate media packages for emergency responders, police, and prosecutors at the moment an accident occurs? How is this media conveyed to these entities? Do exterior windows convey passenger vital signs to emergency responders as they arrive on the scene of an accident? How do sensor arrays in and around the vehicle augment the user’s senses and the experience of mobility? Can you stitch together images from exterior video arrays to create a view of the car from above? Can you see into buildings, through mountains, and around corners? Can the vehicle perform noise-canceling on its mechanical sounds to let you hear the countryside without vehicle noise as you drive through it?

MDP Research team: Ben Hooker with Ian Besler; with important contributions from Aaron Fooshée, Divya Gaitonde, Hugo Pilate, Karl Walker, and Xiaochen Yang. MDP Students: Elaine Cheung, Seung Il Choi, Xin Guo, Jung Won Hong, Jordan Honnette, Qing Yi Li, Nicholas Meehan, Fereshteh Oftadeh, Kristen Schlott, Shan Shen, Xiangjun Shi, Selwa Sweidan, Nan Wang, and Zhihan Ying. With thanks to: Anne Burdick, Tim Durfee, and Renée Reizman.