How Will the Interior of Driverless Cars Look? Experts Weigh In.

Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept Car Interior
Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept Car Interior

It’s looking more and more like driverless vehicles are in our future—whether they’ll be the only option or one of many remains to be seen, of course, but as we inch closer to autonomous driving, the automobile manufacturing and tech industries are beginning to iron out many of the details and particulars of how driverless cars will actually look. We already know exteriors get a lot of attention. In fact, rumors are swirling about a potential “iCar” from Apple, which looks like, well, an iPhone. But beyond the smooth lines of sleek aerodynamic frames and eye-catching paint jobs is a vast unknown: without the necessity of a driver, how will the interior of driverless cars look?

Apple iCar
Apple Concept Car – Design by Meni Tsibas (Image: YouTube)

Cars today are designed around the operation and safety needs of drivers, who need to look through the windshield, press accelerator and brake pedals, use a steering wheel and mirrors, and be able to control other functions like headlights, GPS, music, heat, and windows without moving or shifting their attention much. But when the driver is removed from the driving experience, a whole host of options open up for the interior makeup of a car.

The Latest News from Autonomous Vehicle Innovators

While autonomous vehicles are still under development, some companies aren’t wasting time preparing for the day they’ll roll off production lines.

According to a recently issued patent, it seems Ford is poised to turn autonomous vehicles into “mobile movie theaters, with screens and projectors that vanish into the ceiling as passengers take over the wheel,” writes Forbes. If the patent is any indicator, Ford isn’t preparing for vehicles that are autonomous 100% of the time, a tactic that differs from other driverless innovators, like Google.

Google recently listed a job for an Automotive Interiors Engineering Lead, “who can weigh in on industrial design concepts and define all the car’s ‘interior systems’,” reports Business Insider. The person filling the roll will need, “product development experience covering instrument panels, hard moldings, soft moldings, seating and interior lighting from program concept through to product launch within the transportation industry.” However, Business Insider appears unconvinced that Google can pull off the alluring aesthetics necessary to hook consumers, based on their past products.

We wondered: what might all of the design details add up to? We found an expert to offer his opinion.

Ford's driverless car interior patent sketch
Ford’s patent for an autonomous vehicle entertainment system anticipates removable front seats, but it also anticipates a driver who can take control of the vehicle. (Image: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office / Forbes)

How Will the Interior of Driverless Cars Look?

Richard Bush, from Car Keys, a U.K.-based company that supports people as they research, shop for, and purchase vehicles, shared his thoughts about what the interiors of driverless vehicles might look like.

Bush pointed to trends in autonomous vehicle interiors at motor shows and technology showcases over the last few years. Bush said that while many automakers seem focused on outdoing each other–adding outlandish details and futuristic touches–there is a clear trend in driverless vehicle interiors, and Bush expects these trends to translate to real production-ready vehicles consumers may one day purchase. “Gone is the conventional forward-facing 2+3 seating position. In its place sits a much more open, living-room style layout,” Bush told us. The reason for this is simple, he says: “The two seats for the driver and passenger no longer need to stay glued to the windscreen, allowing them to swivel around and entertain their guests, friends, and children.”

In fact, last year Ford patented a swivel chair, Bush said. The title of the patent: “autonomous vehicle with reconfigurable seats.” The patent offers some evidence that automakers don’t plan to keep the fixed-seat design to which we’ve become accustomed.

Bush points to a design introduced at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas this past January for a good sample of how he imagines the autonomous cars of the future looking. “One of the most popular examples of such a leisurely layout is the Mercedes F 015 concept car. This concept features four wide bucket seats, large panoramic glass surfaces and a flurry of interactive touchscreens.”

Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept Car Interior
Mercedes-Benz F015 Concept Car Interior

“Another trend,” Bush said, “is the lack of dashboard-positioned toggles and switches due to the majority of the tech and comfort features being situated on screens and arm rests in the rear. The cabin is no longer just in the front of the car, it is the car.”

Since optional extras and customizable features are already big business in cars on the road today, Bush sees incredible possibilities for customizing autonomous vehicles, “A mini basketball hoop may just be an upcoming tick box on an option sheet.”

What interior design features would you like to see in driverless vehicles?