Experts Address Key Issues of Autonomous Vehicles

- May 5, 2013

Design experts gath­er in Detroit this week to address issues aris­ing out of the grow­ing empha­sis on autonomous tech­nol­o­gy com­ing from automak­ers.

How will con­sumers react to autonomous cars, they ask.

How will cus­tomers form an emo­tion­al bond with cars that dri­ve them­selves, and where will design­ers hide the huge num­ber of new sen­sors and elec­tron­ics autonomous vehi­cles will use?

Those are a cou­ple of the ques­tions a pan­el of design experts is like­ly to address at the Detroit Ath­let­ic Club Thurs­day.

“We could end up with cars that have real­ly thick roofs, because of all the sen­sors, and the need to place them high up so the car has a 360-degree” field of view, said Jim Hall, man­ag­ing direc­tor of 2953 Ana­lyt­ics in Birm­ing­ham and one of the pan­elists who will address jour­nal­ists at an Auto­mo­tive Press Asso­ci­a­tion lun­cheon.

A myr­i­ad oth­er fea­tures we take for grant­ed today may change as vehi­cles move on their own.

“How do you instill brand char­ac­ter into a vehi­cle that dri­ves itself”” asked Jason Stein, edi­tor and pub­lish­er of Auto­mo­tive News and the panel’s mod­er­a­tor.

That’s a huge chal­lenge for an indus­try that defines its prod­ucts as “dri­ver-ori­ent­ed” and “the ulti­mate dri­ving machine.” Automak­ers will need new ideas and com­pelling designs to pre­vent con­sumers from see­ing cars and trucks as no dif­fer­ent from their wash­ers and dry­ers.

“How do you cre­ate an emo­tion­al link” between a dri­ver and an autonomous vehi­cle, Stein said.

The rel­a­tive­ly few exper­i­men­tal autonomous vehi­cles now on the road bris­tle with sen­sors, cam­eras and anten­nae like land-based sub­marines or bion­ic hedge­hogs, but the chal­lenge of com­mer­cial­iz­ing the tech­nol­o­gy goes far beyond aes­thet­ics.

“Once you have lots of autonomous vehi­cles on the road, you can recon­sid­er what safe­ty sys­tems they need,” Hall said. Among the exam­ples he cit­ed:

■ Bumpers that resist 5-m.p.h. impacts become super­flu­ous in a world with­out fend­er ben­ders.

■ Head­lights are unnec­es­sary if the dri­ver doesn’t need to see what’s ahead, but lights to make pedes­tri­ans aware of vehi­cles are vital.

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