How will autonomous tech affect our cars' design?

Technology changes our lives, but how will they change our cars' looks? CDR analyses autonomous technologies to find out in its first-ever article.

1y ago
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As 2019 comes to an end, every car enthusiast is looking towards the upcoming decade as many cars have already been announced for 2020, but some of us aren’t exactly, rejoiced. That's because the next twelve months will introduce new concepts and technologies that will deeply affect the way we drive, use and style our cars. The mass popularisation of electric vehicles has already had its effect, with cars that drive “ok” and look “ok” the same way our phone has changed our dashboards with more screen than seats these days. However, this article isn't about any of those changes (as you surely know by the title), it's about a new kind of tech that hasn't fully arrived yet, and will, without a doubt, revolutionize our mobility.

Autonomous cars are at the centre of a huge debate on safety, driving experience and design. That last one is what we're interested in (and frankly why you've clicked on this article) simply because we’ve all seen these impressive concepts cars and can't seem to shake the idea of how similar they all look. All you need to do is ether picture a rugby ball on four wheels and you’ve got yourself the Renault EZ-GO, the Citroen 19_19 and the Audi AI trail or simply picture a brick with windows and the VW Sedric or Toyota-Uber concept will suddenly appear upon your eyes.

Worst of all, the road-going prototypes that move around in silicon valley have these tin-shaped radars all over them, like an adolescent with bad acne. None of this is reassuring for the car enthusiasts around the world who grew up looking at elegant Aston Martins and cool original Minis.

However, all of this is irrelevant when you consider two things, electric power and variable-drive cars (don’t worry I'll explain). As many of you know, electric cars need and have very low-drag bodies so to preserve power, meaning that manufacturers would never dare put radars all over their car as it would be too consequential on performance. That's why we can expect more hidden radars and cameras on very slick bodies in future cars. The second good news is the concept of variable-drive cars that still put the driver at the centre of the car but can change to autonomous mode when necessary. Manufacturers have experienced this idea in some super looking concept like the Peugeot e-Legend and the Renault Trezor.

Those two developments really change the game as they will maintain smooth bodywork, therefore eliminating the threat for square vehicles (those will probably only be kept for buses and K-cars) while retaining the need for premium designed cars for the lucky drivers. It could also be safe to say that tomorrow’s cars won't be so different from today’s with similar shapes and proportions especially if you consider what cars looked like in the 2000s and compare them with today's ( think Porsche 911 and VW Golf).

All is safe to say that car enthusiast need not worry, your Aston Martins will remain beautiful and your Minis cool, because car design isn’t dying and will continue to inspire us for the upcoming decade.

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Comments (2)

  • On the exterior front, why should automation change anything...

    Once there's an efficient design that's compliant what else is there to be done..

    I can see how the interior will change to accommodate the extra space previously occupied by manual controls but other than that..

    I mean I can't see how suddenly cars will have LED panels like taxis and buses or can I... 🤔

      1 year ago
  • Autonomous or not, I will posit that the main design constraint in a vehicle is the powertrain and cabin. There are only so many ways you can arrange this while meeting your performance (speed, range) and occupant (comfort, safety) requirements. What I probably see happening is a specialization of autonomous vehicles, say an urban 6-passenger pod or a delivery box on wheels. And what that means for design is a stronger relationship between function and form.

      1 year ago
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