Autonomous Interiors: What Will the Future Look Like?

Q&A with Chris Rockwell, Chief Executive and Founder of Lextant.


What is the key to success with autonomous interiors?

When we think about autonomous interiors, it is very easy to focus on the technology.

Our belief is that the human experience – not technology – will determine the future.  So, if you want to create experiences that are truly transformative, you need to go beyond the technology—to the psychology.

What does the ideal driver and passenger experience feel like? What does the interior need to look like to make people feel this way? What product features and attributes will help create the desired experience? What are the design cues that can help?

The best interiors will be those that have thought through these questions to create experiences that let the driver enjoy the ride and allow the full promise of autonomous vehicles to be realized.


What new activities will the autonomous interior offer?

Technological advances in deep learning, connective services, voice, virtual reality and surface technology are all coming together to supercharge what is possible in autonomous vehicles.

At Lextant, we see these advances through the lens of consumer behavior and desire—the interior of the future needs to be about psychology as much as technology. The goal is for the experience as a whole to not only meet needs but to anticipate them… inspiring connection, collaboration and relaxation.

For example, energized glass coupled with augmented reality opens up new opportunities for connection. Imagine the wind screen becoming a window to the world.  Drive through a new city, see where relevant services are located, get information on history and culture, and then use virtual reality services to tour the sites en route.

We also see interiors facilitating connections with family, friends and networks. As the technology moves off a single screen, you won’t need apps on your phone, the capabilities move with you. Just use voice to pull up information on the glass.

There will be new collaborative opportunities too.  Rather than having to plug in and open up, multimodal surfaces will allow you to pull out a table that can serve as a screen or a video conferencing station or simply as a counter to work on. That is empowering.

And, the same configurable surfaces that facilitate productivity can also be used to tune the world out. Users will be able to control acoustics and lighting and to set moods so they can truly switch off.

And then, there will be the moment when drivers just want to drive. The autonomous interior, particularly in cars for personal use, will need to cater to the desire for freedom and empowerment that have always been at the heart of the driving experience.


What novel “transitional” technologies (fold-away steering wheels, moveable seating, interactive windshields/widows etc.) will debut first?

The move to full automation will not happen overnight. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has defined six levels of automation. Up to at least level three, there are still times when the driver needs to be able to take control—for example, in unplanned turn-taking or more complex or emergency situations.

As drivers move across levels of automation, it is more difficult for occupants to know their roles in the experience – What do I need to be responsible for? What can the automation at each level do? What can I interact with and when? In what situations can I use certain features?

For example, if a steering wheel is present in a fully autonomous mode, can I interact with it? The key to successful experiences is to establish trust and ease of use by removing any ambiguity or unpredictability from the experience through effective design. For example, steering wheels can fold away during high levels of autonomation to make it clear that the vehicle is in control. Audi has demonstrated this type of concept allowing the occupants to “take up” the steering wheel when needed or desired in a clear signaling of control.

Another example is GM’s Super Cruise technology that uses infrared to monitor the driver’s facial focus. It then signals when the driver needs to re-engage.

Continued investment in experiences and technologies that can promote trust is critical.