Are Google’s driverless cars set to change car design?

The Google self-driving car has taken a bit of stick in both the mainstream automotive and specialist design press for the way it looks. We’re not about to start defending it, as from a purely automotive design resolution perspective it leaves quite a lot to be desired.

Nonetheless we do think that some people are missing the point. And in a video released by Google to chart the development of the car (and why it is like it is), we find some interesting clues as to the car’s looks.

Firstly it’s clear from a snapshot of the sketches that, far from not having anyone involved in the project who knows about automotive design (as the final car makes it appear), Google clearly had some people who can at least sketch in a similar manner to what you’d find in an average design studio.

Secondly, it’s clear from the description of the project leader that one of the reasons the car looks like it does is due to placement of sensors and the need for it to have 360 degree fields of visions for each sensors – with the surfaces falling away below each one to optimise their view. 

Google Self Driving Car Next Generation of Cars Wallpaper.jpg

While that leads to some questionable resolution of the aesthetics, it is quite pure in design thinking terms. It also begs the question; will autonomous cars ultimately change automotive design? You might think the answer is an obvious yes: if cars can’t crash, current structures become redundant. If people don’t need to drive them, then the interior could be completely re-layed out. But we hadn’t considered that the car’s sensory field might affect the way the exterior of the car has to be surfaced and resolved. 

Nonetheless, we’d expect v2.0 to look different. This is clearly a prototype in the truest sense of the word, Google’s starting out on this journey. And perhaps ultimately, the negative reaction people are having to the car is more representative of disappointment in its failure to push forward the automotive envelope, at least as far as appearances go. So let’s hope that v2.0 gets some of the automotive design basics right, but perhaps goes even further in having its design identity apparently driven by the technology that underpins it.

Ultimately though, the aesthetic argument is only a small part of a bigger picture about user perception and ultimate acceptance of driverless cars. And while right now the technology and infrastructural story is the one being told, we're interested in understanding how users come to adopt and accept driverless cars – how, for instance – not having a steering wheel or brake pedal to intervene, might affect someone's attitude and ultimate desire to buy into the concept of driverless cars. We think there's a lot of 'soft science' research to be done in the area, and it's something that we're hoping – with our expertise in the research areas of perspective and intelligence – to get involved with very soon.