Carmakers are used to selling a dream, observes John Tighe, Transport Design Director at JPA Design in London. Once it was sports cars and the open road, then it was SUVs and outdoor adventures. Tomorrow's vision is not so clear, he suggests: "The dream we see quite often today is what I call the utopian casual business meeting going on in a vehicle. I think they're sort of missing out."
The dreams Tighe is used to dealing with are a little more literal - providing airline passengers with the chance to get some sleep in lie-flat business-class seats. He says carmakers, faced with the unfamiliar prospect of autonomous interiors, have begun to take a keen interest in how aircraft cabins are put together.
Just two years ago, Tighe says he felt like the novelty act at automotive conferences, describing how design approaches might translate from aircraft cabins to autonomous interiors. Today, JPA counts major European OEMs among its clients, and some of its ideas for autonomous interiors are shared on these pages. The transfer of techniques from business-class cabins is clear.
"When we talk to airlines, privacy is pretty much the biggest topic," Tighe says, going on to describe a long list of concerns - from striking the balance between claustrophobic and cosy, to the social taboos of shutting yourself away from adjacent passengers. "Yet in cars, there's almost no talk of privacy. I think it's the legacy of selling cars to private owners and not really recognising that there's a new dawn coming."
Privacy glass shielding a car's cabin from prying eyes is now common, but beyond that the screen dividing up a limousine is about as far as today's cars go in terms of creating private space. "If you can deliver privacy in a way that gives people options, there are no downsides- for families, or colleagues, or anyone," Tighe notes, adding that even within a family home, doors and walls tend to be the norm. "The role of the designer is definitely not just in designing the detail in the space, it's about understanding how people are going to use the space, and how they're going to feel."
In aircraft interiors, these kind of concerns extend to catering for germophobes and nervous flyers, who can be at least partly reassured by introducing an element of theatre. "The common example is cash machines: they don't need to make the noise of counting cash but it makes people feel less nervous about waiting for their money," Tighe says. In the future, a shared autonomous car might make a visible fuss of zapping its interior with bug-killing UV before opening its doors. "A lot of psychological elements are going to be present even before you consider how people might feel about being driven by a computer," he adds.
Similarly, there's the issue of waste. "People throw things all over the place on a long flight, so a lot of our work is to try and improve that, by encouraging people to behave better. That's going to be big frontier in the automotive autonomous world, because current car interiors are an absolute nightmare to clean. In ride-share vehicles, you're going to have people turning up with coffee and croissants. You're either going to have to valet them every hour or you'll need to encourage the right kind of behaviours."
Ride-share interiors will likely follow the hotel industry's example, where wall-hung toilets and fittings have become almost universal because they dramatically speed up the process of cleaning bathroom floors. "If you do that [with cars], it's a win-win- it makes vehicles better for everyone," Tighe says.
Assessing the real process of cleaning is vital, he adds, describing how one airline discovered that at least half of all cabin damage was caused by heavy, industrial grade vacuum cleaners bashing into things. "You need to design for more than just your target users," he observes.
Providing for sleeping passengers is another area where planes, trains and automobiles may soon have a lot in common. "Most seats require you to sit upright for TTOL (taxi, take-off and landing). However increasingly we're seeing seats certified for a range of positions," Tighe says. He adds that work is underway to certify fully flat beds for TTOL, "but it's not there yet".
Some automotive experts shy away from the prospect of beds in autonomous cars because of safety issues. "I think they underestimate how much people like to sleep," Tighe says. "As soon as it's even close to possible, the appeal of it will be so huge, because it could be a real game changer. I think it's inevitable."
For further details on JPA Design's autonomous vehicle work & capabilities, please contact John Tighe on:
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